Wednesday 27 October 2010

I believe that the judge's ruling was wrong

You may recall that on October 15th, I wrote a piece in which I dealt with the issue as to whether or not the man who pushed two boys into the path of a subway was insane. I wrote: “The sole question to be determined by the judge, who is sitting without a jury, is whether Mr. De Oliveira was so mentally ill when he pushed the boys onto the subway tracks that he was incapable of appreciating what he was doing or that it was wrong or whether he is simply a bad man who was angry at society and took his anger out on the boys.”

The judge made her ruling on October 25th. She said in part; “I find at the time Adenir De Oliveria committed these acts, the accused’s mind was devoid of any thoughts other than pushing the victims or killing himself. His thought processes were so impacted at that time to such an extent that he was unable to weigh the pros and cons of his actions and was incapable of appreciating that what he was doing was morally wrong.” unquote

I have a problem with that decision. The fact that he tried to run away after he committed the act is evidence that at the time he did the pushing, he believed that the boys would be killed and that what he had done was wrong and that he would be punished if he was apprehended. If he thought otherwise, he would have remained at the scene of his crime. After all, if a man doesn’t believe that he has committed a crime, why would he attempt to flee the scene of the crime he committed?

I think his real motive was to get the psychiatric help he believed he needed, help that thus far had been denied him. Even if the judge felt that he knew what he was doing and convicted him of the crime, he would still get the psychiatric help he needed.

The judge didn’t accept the crown’s psychiatrist’s view that the man was faking his mental illness. You may recall that the crown’s psychiatrist concluded that Mr. De Oliveira suffers from major depression and panic attacks, yet understood the consequences of his actions at the subway station. That’s my view also although I am not a psychiatrist.

Is the man psychotic? Psychosis is an abnormal condition of the mind and it is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a ‘loss of contact with reality’. People suffering from psychosis are described as psychotic. Psychosis is given to the more severe forms of psychiatric disorder, during which hallucinations and delusions and impaired insight may occur.

People experiencing psychosis may report hallucinations or delusional beliefs and may exhibit personality changes and thought disorder. Depending on its severity, this may be accompanied by unusual or bizarre behavior, as well as difficulty with social interaction and impairment in carrying out the daily life activities. A wide variety of central nervous system diseases, from both external poisons and internal physiologic illness, can produce symptoms of psychosis. Causes of symptoms of mental illness were customarily classified as ‘organic’ or ‘functional’. Organic conditions are primarily medical or pathophysiological, whereas, functional conditions are primarily psychiatric or psychological. Nowadays, the symptoms of psychosis is no longer classified as psychotic disorders that are functional or organic. Rather the traditional psychotic illnesses are believed to be brought about due to general medical conditions, and substance induced psychosis. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause symptoms of mania and psychosis and Vitamin D overdose can cause altered thinking and psychosis

If we are to accept that view, then we have to be also convinced that the wiring in the brain is all screwed up or the psychosis is brought about by what the person ingested, either orally, by injection or by inhalation. But wait a minute. Isn’t it possible that some traumatic event in a person’s life can make a person psychotic?
That seems to be a recurring theme in movies.

A person can become psychotic if he was exposed to an event involving a violent death however many people are exposed to such events and although they suffer from depression after the event, they don’t automatically become psychotic.

Stress is known to contribute to and trigger psychotic states. A history of psychologically traumatic events and the recent experience of a stressful event, can both contribute to the development of psychosis. Short-lived psychosis triggered by stress is known as brief reactive psychosis, and patients may spontaneously recover normal functioning within two weeks. In some rare cases, individuals may remain in a state of full-blown psychosis for many years, or perhaps have attenuated psychotic symptoms (such as low intensity hallucinations) present at most times.

Psychotic episodes are periods of time when symptoms of psychosis are strong and interfere with regular life. Although the lengths of these episodes vary from person to person and may only last a few hours or days, psychosis is most likely to continue for weeks, months or even years unless the person is given proper treatment; something that Mr. De Oliveira apparently was not given sufficiently.

There are three phases to psychosis; however, not all people having a psychotic episode will experience clear symptoms of all three phases. Each person's experience will differ.

The first phase is called the Prodromal Phase. This is the period before the psychosis becomes more obvious. There are often changes in feelings, thoughts, perceptions and behaviours. Prodromal symptoms vary from person to person and some people may not experience a prodrome. The duration of this phase is quite variable, although it usually spans several months.

The second phase is the Acute Phase. This is the stage when the typical psychotic symptoms emerge. It is also the stage that is easiest to recognize and diagnose. Therefore the acute phase is when most people begin receiving treatment.

The third phase is Recovery. Some of the symptoms that are apparent in the Acute Phase may linger in Recovery. With appropriate treatments, the great majority of people successfully recover from their first episode of psychosis.

Early Signs (Prodromal Phase)

Prior to the onset of acute psychosis people may have symptoms that are characterized as Prodromal symptoms. Some of the more common Prodromal symptoms include:
• social withdrawal
• reduced concentration, attention
• depressed mood
• sleep disturbance
• anxiety
• suspiciousness
• skipping school or work
• irritability

These symptoms are very general and could be signs of many different things, including normal adolescent behaviour. It is always important to be on the alert for such changes in thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behaviour especially when they are continuous over a period of time. The earlier the treatment starts, the greater the chance of a successful recovery.

Definite Psychotic Symptoms

It is in the Acute Phase that typical psychotic symptoms emerge. These are the symptoms that are hard to miss. They are intense, active and continuous. They interfere with normal life functioning. These symptoms are frequently separated into "positive" and "negative" categories. Positive symptoms are referred to as "positive" because they are viewed as an excess or distortion of the person's normal functioning.

Some of the positive symptoms include: Delusions (fixed false beliefs)

Such as:
• being followed or monitored
• being plotted against
• having special abilities or ‘powers’
• certain songs or comments are specifically directed toward oneself or communicating a hidden message
• being controlled by forces or other individuals
• having one's thoughts broadcast so others can hear them

Hallucinations involve seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling or tasting something that is not actually there. The most common type of hallucination involves hearing things - such as voices or particular sounds. These hallucinations can be so real that the individual may not realize that what they are hearing is false. It is often the odd behaviour that happens as a result of the hallucinations that gets recognized as a problem.

The speech of individuals with psychosis may be disorganized in such a way that the person moves quickly from one topic to the next, or to the point where the person's speech may not be understandable.

The behaviour of individuals with psychosis also may be disorganized. The person may have difficulties performing activities of daily living (e.g., cooking, self-care) or display inappropriate behaviours or responses (e.g., laughing while describing a personal tragedy).

Negative symptoms reflect a decrease in, or loss of, normal functions. These symptoms are often less evident than positive symptoms and require careful assessment.

Some examples of negative symptoms include:

• little display of emotions
• not speaking very much
• difficulties in thinking or coming up with ideas
• decreased ability to initiate tasks
• lowered levels of motivation or drive

Some examples of other problems include:

• depression
• anxiety
• suicidal thoughts or behaviours
• substance abuse
• difficulties functioning
• sleep disturbance

In the recovery stage, the acute symptoms mentioned above will lessen and start to fade; however, some symptoms may linger. Even after the psychosis has responded to treatment, problems such as depression, anxiety, decreased self esteem, social problems and difficulties with work or school may occur.

Naturally I didn’t interview Mr. De Oliveira or have access to his psychiatric reports so I can’t possibly know which problems he is having from a psychiatrist’s position.

What I am concerned however about is the fact that after he is re-evaluated by some more psychiatrists, he may be deemed OK and released within a month. If suddenly he is deemed OK (even after being given medicine to treat his illness) people will wonder if his craziness was really a sham. If it was, then a very dangerous man will be released back into society.

Now I said at the beginning of this piece that I have a problem with the judge’s decision. The problem I have is that psychiatry is not an exact science. In fact it is one of the less accurate sciences there is. I don’t blame the psychiatrists for this. Understanding the human mind (that which cannot be seen) is a very difficult thing to do. A great many psychiatrists in the past had recommended that so-called psychotics were cured and then the psychotics went out and killed again.

The laws of the mind are completely different and unique, although related to the physical body. Man does have a physical and biological aspect that does conform to the basic laws observed in the physical sciences, but the realm of mind and human ability is entirely different and doesn't adhere to the same laws.

Psychiatry is basically a field that observes people and attempts to categorize what they call ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental disorders’. Strangely, they admit not knowing what a mind is and the don’t appear to define what a healthy mind is or should be. Without ever defining a healthy mind other than as the absence of mental illness, they never establish a goal or ideal scene for the end result of their methods.

Additionally, more and more behaviors that have nothing to do with a person’s mind are called a ‘mental illness’. PMS is listed as a ‘mental disorder’ and the psychiatrists would love nothing better than to prescribe Prozac or some other anti-depressant to every woman in the country once a month to handle her so-called mental disorder. Homosexuality was declared a mental illness until it became unpopular to do so, and suddenly it wasn't an illness any longer. People who shop too much have a disorder. They are called shopaholics. People who work too hard and like it have a disorder. People who drink too much coffee have a mental disorder. I am sure people who pick their noses also also do, even if it hasn't been discovered and cataloged yet. Give them enough time and it probably will be.

Now neurosis is something else. Many people are neurotic. If you have a compulsion to wash your hands every ten minutes, you are neurotic. If you take two steps forward and one step backward, you are neurotic. Such persons can be treated and most of these neurotics are cured.

But someone who has a desire to kill a human being as Mr. De Oliveira had when he pushed the two boys in front of an oncoming subway, that is something else. This man is without a doubt, a very sick man. But was he insane?

I don’t believe that he was insane at all. He knew that he was pushing complete strangers in front of an oncoming subway. He never said that they were evil or that the boys were trying to kill him. If that was his grounds for what he was doing, then he would have been suffering from a delusion and was hallucinating. There was no evidence of that presented in court.

His willful intention to kill the boys was the highest degree of his culpability. Knowingly doing what he was doing wasn’t the highest level of culpability but it was a form of conduct in which he had no doubt in his mind that it was what he wanted to do. He acted recklessly without any concern about the consequences of his act knowing that the boys might be killed. Are these the actions of a man who is legally insane?

The Canadian Criminal Code (section 16) defines insanity as follows;

“No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or knowing that it was wrong.” unquote

These provisions are effectively identical to the original concept of insanity.

The trial judge said that Mr. De Oliveira’s was “devoid of any thoughts other than pushing the victims or killing himself. His thought processes were so impacted at that time to such an extent that he was unable to weigh the pros and cons of his actions and was incapable of appreciating that what he was doing was morally wrong.” What she was saying was that his mental disorder was so compacted with crap, he couldn’t think straight.

This means that anyone who commits the crime of first degree murder and doesn’t want to spend 25 years as a minimum in prison can act in a manner in which his mind is supposedly compacted with crap and then argue that he didn’t know what he was doing because there was no more space in his mind to think rationally. Give me a break.
His mind wasn’t so cluttered that he couldn’t find his way to the subway station. It wasn’t so compacted that he couldn’t form the intention to kill two innocent boys by pushing them in front of an oncoming subway. His mind wasn’t clogged so much that he couldn’t form the decision to try and escape from the scene.

Subsection 3 of the previous section 16 stated that a person who has specific delusions but in other respects is sane, shall not be acquitted of the crime on the grounds of insanity.

Consequently, anyone who suffers from a delusion to the point that it renders him incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of his act and knows that it is wrong, will be classed as suffering from a mental disorder but not necessarily as being insane. As I said earlier, this man wasn’t insane and although he suffered from some form of mental disorder, he knew what he was doing and he appreciated the consequences of his act.

Now we will have to wait and see what is next for this man. Will his psychiatrists presume that giving him pills will cure him? According to many psychiatrists, taking a pill as a cure obviously is easier than confronting and dealing with the actual personal reasons for one's difficulties with their own mind and life. There are no safe psychiatric drugs. Each has numerous harmful short term and largely unknown long term effects. Each psychiatric drug which was originally heralded as the new safe wonder drug, was found to have severe harmful side effects, including addiction, and withdrawal symptoms, among others.

Thorazine, a strong tranquilizer, creates a very similar effect to a lobotomy (brain surgery) by disrupting frontal lobe nerve activity. Psychiatrists grossly neglect to point out the potential harm of psychiatric drugs to their patients, such as tardive dyskinesia, tardive dementia, general dulling of awareness, emotional numbing, and cognitive dysfunction. Side effects can occur in as high as 50% or more of patients, depending on the drug and dosages, and often the effects are permanent with no known cure.This is the main reason why many afflicted people stop taking their meds.

There is always the possibility that this man will be kept in a mental institution for the rest of his life. Many persons who committed violent crimes opted for the sanity pleas and ended up in a mental institution and remained their much longer than had they been merely sent to prison.

I don’t think juries and judges should be given the task of determining whether or not a person is of unsound mind. Even psychiatrists can’t make up their own minds many time or reach an agreement in the assessment of a patient.

I believe that if a criminal’s defence is that he is insane or not criminally responsible because of a diseased mind, the decision should be made by a panel of psychiatrists, each who have examined him. A psychiatrist from both the crown and the defence should give the panel their views. If the majority of the panel conclude that he is insane, then the judge should find him not guilty by reason of insanity and send him to a mental hospital for the criminally insane. If on the other hand, they are of the opinion that he is sane, then the judge should send him to prison with an order that he be given psychiatric treatment while he is in prison.

Consider the alternative. A jury comprised of plumbers, housewives, car salesmen etc., decides whether or not a person is insane. They are the experts in the facts. They are not experts in the human mind. The judge who is an expert in the law is also not an expert in the human mind. It’s bad enough that psychiatric experts can’t agree on such as important issue. Do you really want a judge or a jury making those decisions for them?

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