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  • The Bad, the Ugly, and the Need for a Position by Psychiatry
  • Lloyd A. Wells (bio)

vice, psychiatric education, psychiatry-law interface, medicalization

Sadler’s paper is thought provoking and will resonate with many psychiatrists who deal with the interface of vice and psychiatric syndromes. This interface and the dilemmas it poses are perhaps most discussed by residents, who are dealing with the issue for the first time and who often debate what is “psychiatric” about these cases. Many residents have their own informal systems of classifying vice, often with a divide between the criminal population and those perceived as avoiding work and responsibility. These unofficial classifications are usually judgmental and often pejorative, but the residents rarely get much help from faculty in this area. Indeed, many of the faculty have equally judgmental and pejorative views, which are neither systematized nor subject to systematic analysis.

By clarifying the importance of the issue of the vice–mental disorder relationship (VMDR) to psychiatry, Sadler may move this topic to one that receives Socratic discourse in our training programs and serious consideration in the training of psychiatrists rather than an idiosyncratic lumping of these patients into the broad category of “patients I don’t like.”

Sadler asks for comments in several categories: historical intractability, goals of psychiatry, taxonomy, implications for the criminal justice system, implications for the law, and ethical/political implications.

Issues of historical intractability are long standing. In A Tour of the Whole Island of Great Britain, written in the early eighteenth century, Daniel Defoe (1724–1727) describes many asylums, often with the comment, “as it is a madhouse, so is it also a house of correction.” Some of the great public hospitals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were built at least as much to get antisocial and homeless people off the streets as to provide care for the mentally ill. The moral treatment of France and Great Britain, which added much to the practice of psychiatry, clearly had punitive “treatments” for patients with vice-laden behaviors, and this was very explicit in the American moral model of treatment of the late nineteenth century with its obsessive need to prevent patients from masturbating. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was great debate about the inclusion of Pritchard’s “moral insanity”—now sanitized into “personality disorders”—into the psychiatric domain, and Kraepelin referred to this group as “enemies of society.”

Sadler next asks us to consider the goals of psychiatry in regard to “a proper VMDR.” He wonders [End Page 43] whether a strict medicalization account can be defended. I think it is clear from a large literature and from clinical experience that it cannot be defended —now. But it may become defensible in this century, which will pose enormous challenges to psychiatry, lawmakers, and the courts (vide infra). A strict moralization model is defended by many in society, including some psychiatrists, but has severe limitations and seems illogical. It is hard to make a case (though juries have done so) that, for example, a very delusional young woman with postpartum psychosis who murders her children because of the belief that far worse things than death will happen to them imminently if they live, fits the moralization approach. The Dahmer case is especially instructive. Although there was enormous “vice” (and perhaps “evil”), it is hard to make a case that a sane man would make temples out of the body parts of victims and would attempt to commune with the dead through them.

He wonders whether a “mixed” version of medicalization/moralization can be developed and defended. I would argue for both a mixed approach and a “shared” approach. A middle adolescent with bipolar disorder burned his house to the ground. (Fortunately, he and family members were injured but not killed.) He was wildly manic at the time and set the fire because he wanted to prove that he was immortal and totally impervious to flames. He was delusional, extraordinarily impulsive, and completely without judgment, and it would be extraordinarily difficult to exclude the medical frame in any consideration of the vice involved. The vice, indeed, may be more involved in his decision while euthymic to stop taking...


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