Commitment of the Mentally Ill: Problems of Law and Policy

A number of recent events makes it timely to reconsider certain aspects of the relation between psychiatry and the law. In the past decade, both the public and the legal profession have been increasingly concerned with the impact of mental illness on the law. In 1952, an outstanding text, Psychiatry and The Law, was published as the joint effort of a lawyer and a psychiatrist. Two years later the Durham case laid down a new test of insanity in criminal cases, rejecting the M’Naghten rule. Interest in the case resulted in a host of law review articles, symposiums, and a book on insanity and criminal responsibility. In the tort area, there is a clear trend toward recognition of mental suffering as a legitimate element of damages, either with or without preceding trauma. Another example is the recent Bailey case, a landmark decision in workmen’s compensation law. The court said that even though a statute defined “injury” as “harm to the physical structure of the body,” work-connected mental illness is compensable, since the body is a single interrelated functioning organism which includes the mind.