"IS IT SO?"

W.H.O. Sankey
1884 The Lancet  
page 359 of THE LANCET these words form the title of a comment on a remark of Mr. Justice Stephen, to the following effect :-" That the law allows persons charged with a crime to be confined in a private asylum under the certificate of two medical men, and thus protects them from the courts of law." Your note of interrogation induces me to send you the following comments. Mr. Justice :Stephen, it is well known, has given special attention to the subject of insanity in its legal relations, and
more » ... al relations, and his dictum is of great authority. The only question with me is whether he is rightly understood. Several cases have occurred to me in my life bearing upon this subject, all of them in connexion with a public asylum. Though the insane are sent to a public .asylum on one medical certificate, and not two, the principle ,of the power of the certificate remains the same. CASE 1.—A young man of weak intellect and supposed to -be harmless, living in Westminster, one day struck a ,neighbour on the head with a bar of iron. He was taken before a magistrate and sent to Hanwell. Erysipelas, &c., occurred in the wounded man, and he died. The coroner issued his warrant for the arrest of the lunatic. It became a ,question whether he ought to be given up. I gave him up. A discussion arose among the magistrates forming the com--mittee as to whether I had done right or wrong; their opinions were divided. I was myself influenced by the fact that the arrest was not likely to be detrimental to the patient's .condition, or, in other words, I decided on purely medical g r o u n d s . CASE 2.—Owing to the carelessness of an attendant, two men were locked in one small room at night. In two hours one was found dead. No application for the murderer's arrest was made. The man remained in the asylum until the .criminal asylum was opened. He was already at the time of the murder a criminal lunatic. CASE 3.-An apparently harmless epileptic and imbecile .patient was sent into the field to be employed in spade husbandry. While at work he raised his spade and clove the next pa,tient'shead in two. He was arrested and tried at the 'Old Bailey, and sent to the criminal asylum. The only portion of the Acts which bears upon the subject of the power of a medical man over his patient is the ,following, which I here condense :-" Every superintendent licensed to receive or take charge of a lunatic upon a proper 'order, accompanied with the required medical certificates, shall have power and authority to take charge of, receive, and detain such patient until he shall die or be removed or discharged by due authority ; and every writ or other proceeding which shall be brought against such authorised person, the party complained of may plead such order and 'certificates in defence, which shall be a justification."-(8th and 9th Vic., cap. 100, sect. 99.) 1 am therefore disposed to reply to your query by saying, " It is not so." The only power of two medical men signing the certificate, ,or the medical man in charge of the patient, is that which the profession generally have in all other kinds of cases. For
doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(02)22216-3 fatcat:6mwslsmtdnem5gdte3bpd2f3pu