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October 10, 1959


Author Affiliations

Paradise, Calif.

JAMA. 1959;171(6):644-648. doi:10.1001/jama.1959.03010240012005

The administration of justice in cases involving medical questions is hampered by indifference to the subject of medical jurisprudence in medical schools and by persistence of medieval notions on medical subjects among legislators and jurists. Ignorance of the effects of psychic trauma and organic brain disease still confuses every discussion of criminal responsibility, and anachronistic laws still result in flagrant injustices. A recent case illustrates the impossibility of predicting whether a psychiatrist will report that the accused knew the difference between right and wrong at the time of the alleged crime. In one experiment involving the employees of 16 chain stores a program involving the use of a polygraph reduced the number of admitted cases of dishonesty from 76 % to 4 %. Science has provided the tools for a vast improvement in the understanding and control of human behavior. These tools should be used to insure fairness in the treatment of mentally sick people, and it is up to society, including the medical profession, to make sure that they are used.