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April 13, 1963

The Medicolegal Dilemma— An Interment of Truth

Author Affiliations


Emeritus Clinical Professor (Dr. Ebaugh), and Associate Professor (Dr. Macdonald), Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado School of Medicine.

JAMA. 1963;184(2):131-135. doi:10.1001/jama.1963.73700150003015

THUS RUNS A CLASSICAL DESCRIPTION of psychosis. Would that the nature of legal insanity be equally clear-cut in revealing itself against the backdrop of modern civilization in which the members are highly interdependent. The tests of criminal responsibility in the majority of the states are derived from the English M'Naghten Rules.1 Was the accused laboring under such a defect of reason from disease of the mind that (1) he did not know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or (2) did not know that it was wrong? These rules have not been rendered obsolete by the remarkable strides in psychiatric knowledge since their introduction in 1843. They were untenable even by the psychological knowledge of that day.

Indeed, these rules represented a backward step in the laws of England. Forty-three years earlier, Erskine, who defended Hadfield2 on the charge of attempting to assassinate

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