« PreviousContinue »
Jur. 58 ; Freeman v. People, 4 Denio, 10 ;
47 Am. Dec. 216 ; 6 Field's Lawyers' Briefs, § 409.
§ 11. Insanity defined and described.
In medical jurisprudence insanity has been defined as the prolonged departure, without any adequate cause, from the states of feeling and modes of thinking usual to the individual in health, "Of late years," observes Dr. Gooch, " this word has been used to designate all mental impairments and deficiencies formerly en braced in the terms lunacy, idiocy and unsoundness of mind. Even to the middle of the last century the law recognized only two classes of persons requiring its protection on the score of mental disorder', viz. : lunatics and idiots. The former
, were supposed to embrace all who had lost the reason which they once possessed, and their disorder was called dementia accidentalis ; the latter those who had never possessed any reason, and this was called dementia naturalis. Lunatics were supposed to be much influenced by the moon; and another prevalent notion respecting them was that in a very large proportion there occurred lucid intervals, when reason shone out for a while from the cloud that obscured it, with its natural brightness. It may be remarked, in passing, that lucid intervals are far less common than they were once supposed to be, and that the restoration is not so complete as the descriptions of the older writers would lead us to infer. In modern practice, the term • lucid interval' signifies merely a remission of the disease, an abatement of the violence of the morbid action, a period of comparative calm ; and the proof of its recurrence is generally drawn from the character of the act in question. It is hardly necessary to say that this is an unjustifiable use of the term, which should be confined to the genuine lucid interval which does occasionally occur.
"It began to be found out at last that a large class of persons required the protection of the law who were not idiots, because they had reason once, nor lunatics in the ordinary signification of the term, because they were not violent, exhibited no very notable derangement of reason, were independent of lunar influences, and had no lucid intervals. Their mental impairment consisted in a loss of intellectual power, of interest in their usual pursuits, of the ability to comprehend their relations to persons and things. A new term-unsoundness of mind was therefore introduced to meet the emergency ; but it has been never clearly defined.
• The law has never held that all lunatics and idiots are absolved from all responsibility for their civil or criminal acts. This consequence was attributed only to the severest grades of these affections,—to lunatics who have no more understanding than the brute, and to idiots who cannot “number twenty pence nor tell how old they are.” Theoretically the law has changed but little even to the present day, but practically it exhibits considerable improvement; that is, while the general doctrine remains unchanged, it is qualified, in one way and another, by the courts, so as to produce less practical injustice.
Insanity implies the presence of disease or congenital defect in the brain, and although it may be accompanied by disease in other organs, the cerebral affection is always supposed to be primary and predominant. It is to be borne in mind, however, that bodily diseases may be accompanied, in some stage of their progress, by
mental disorder, which may affect the legal relations of the patient.
“ To give a definition of insanity not congenital, or, in other words, to indicate its essential element, the present state of our knowledge does not permit. Most of the attempts to define insanity are sententious descriptions of the disease rather than proper definitions. For all practical purposes, however, a definition is unnecessary, because the real question at issue always is, not what constitutes insanity in general, but wherein consists the insanity of this or that individual. Neither sanity nor insanity can be regarded as an entirety to be handled and described, but rather as a condition to be considered in reference to other conditions. Men vary in the character of their mental manifestations insomuch that conduct and conversations perfectly proper aud natural in one might in another, differently constituted, be indicative of insanity. In determining, therefore, the mental condition of a person, he must not be judged by any arbitrary standard of sanity or insanity, nor compared with other persons unquestionably sane or insane. He can properly be compared only with himself. “When a person, without any adequate cause, adopts notions he once regarded as absurd, or indulges in conduct opposed to all his former habits and principles, or changes completely his ordinary temper, manners and dispositions,—the man of practical sense indulging in speculative theories and projects; the miser becoming a spendthrift and the spendthrift a miser; the staid, quiet, unobtrusive citizen becoming noisy, restless and boisterous; the gay and joyous becoming dull and disconsolate even to the verge of despair ; the careful, cautious man of business plunging into hazardous schemes of speculation ; the discreet and pious becoming shamefully reckless and profligate, - no stronger proof of insanity can be had. And yet not one of these traits, in and by itself alone, disconnected from the natural traits of character, could be regarded as conclusive proof of insanity. In accordance with this fact the principle has been laid down, with the sanction of the highest legal and medical authority, that it is the prolonged departure, without any adequate cause, from states of feeling and modes of thinking usual to the individual when in health, which is the essential feature