Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 51.djvu/468

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

NEW QUESTIONS IN MEDICAL JURISPRUDENCE.
By T. D. CROTHERS, M. D.

THE startling revelations in the scientific world are repeated in some degree in the sudden opening up of a new territory of medico-legal science, the jurisprudence of inebriety. Within five years the question of the mental soundness of the inebriate and his capacity to act or reason normally has been raised with increasing frequency in a great variety of criminal and civil cases. The rapid advances in psychological studies fully sustain the wisdom and necessity of scientific inquiry in this field. The medical profession has been suddenly called to determine facts and their meaning, and give advice along this new line of inquiry, without precedent, and opposed by public opinion and deep-rooted prejudice, and hence are often plunged into great doubt and confusion. As a result, the strangest theories prevail as to what inebriety is and is not, theories of moral and legal accountability and responsibility, that presuppose a degree of psychological knowledge that can only be obtained after centuries of further study.

To-day there are hundreds of persons awaiting trial or sentence for crime committed when poisoned by alcohol. There are hundreds of business contracts disputed and contested by law, made when the parties were intoxicated. There are hundreds of wills whose validity is questioned for the same reason. There are hundreds of divorce suits where the inebriety of the parties is the vital question on which the issue of the case turns.

Although these topics have so recently come into medico-legal notice, and are so complicated with theories and superstitions, yet they have already divided into three distinct theories or points of view:

First, the ethical and moral view, which seeks an explanation of inebriety from the teaching of Scripture and the opinions of theologians and metaphysicians. This view asserts that inebriety is only a phase of moral depravity innate in every life, and one that is susceptible of great growth and development, by willful neglect and gratification of all the animal instincts. Medico-legally the remedy is severe punishment, increased responsibility, prayer, conversion, and the application of moral suasion.

The second is the legal view, which is practically an outcome or result of the moral theory. It assumes that inebriety is a phase of savagery or the inborn tendency to lawlessness and giving up of all control and restraint; or the indulgence of the lower passions regardless of society, law, and order. The legal remedy is severe punishment, increased penalties, and suffering.