‘The Medicalisation of Evil’ – The Guardian

Memorial after Newtown shooting

As a medical historian whose research focuses on a time and place very alien to our own, I rarely comment on current events. However, in the wake of the recent school massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I would like to discuss briefly what I would characterise as the ‘medicalisation of evil.’

Read more in The Guardian.

By | 2012-12-17T14:51:08+00:00 December 17th, 2012|Casebooks|9 Comments


  1. Fiz (Fizzie-Lou on Twitter) December 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    What an excellent article, Lindsey. Very well said.

  2. nightsmusic December 17, 2012 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    I agree! I thought it was very good, very well thought out and those who can only see ‘evil’ as a religious term and not a certainty in this world are doomed to ignore it until it reaches out and bites them.

    And your last line was spot on.

  3. stilesroad December 18, 2012 at 11:31 am - Reply

    If ‘evil’ is just a rubric for psychopathia then I am in agreement. Not if ‘evil’ is some metaphysical ‘spiritual’ deal! Throw away the key since we haven’t a clue about ‘curing’ psychopathia…

    • Anonymous December 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm - Reply

      You believe in “psychopathia”? I don’t. I believe in deeply immoral behaviors and choices and very hurt people who become numbed to humanity and hurt others. But that is no “illness”.

  4. Anonymous December 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    A valiant article. Sadly not many people will listen. When psychiatry says a behavior is a brain disease, apparently that is “self evident” and we don’t need psychiatry to prove it. Apparently, billions of people around the world are in agreement that any bizarre behavior is automatically a “brain disease”. It’s a sad commentary on the world we live in today that people believe this crap.

  5. Anonymous December 19, 2012 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    God I am disappointed with myself that I read all the Guardian article comments. I knew exactly that it would be the usual mindless reactionary opposition. This article was too good for the Guardian audience, a paper guilty of almost daily reductionist medicalization.

    That might beg the question where would I have liked to have seen it published. I think madinamerica.com would have been a good place for it, a huge newish site that has some good similar stuff.

    • The Chirurgeon's Apprentice December 20, 2012 at 8:55 pm - Reply

      Thanks very much for your kind remarks. This is a very difficult subject; one that warrants a more complex and nuanced analysis which is naturally difficult to present in a short commentary on a news website. I had no idea my article would cause such a controversy.

      My intended purpose was to illustrate changing attitudes towards deviancy (first as sin, then as a crime and now as a medical problem); and to argue that everything which is “medicalised” today is not necessarily pathological.

      I will keep your suggestion in mind going forward in the future. On a good note, I have received a lot of positive feedback through email, Twitter and FB. I’m glad the article got people talking about this very important subject!

  6. Patricia Clark December 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    so are you saying he needed a exorcist or a doctor or both? There were no signs he acted in violence before to deem him a danger to self and others but we know he couldn’t provide for himself or others and that is not an indication of violence.

    • The Chirurgeon's Apprentice December 21, 2012 at 5:00 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your comments.

      My intention was to draw attention to our changing attitudes towards deviancy (first as a sin, then as a crime and now as a medical problem); and to ask why we are so drawn to a medical narrative when dealing with horrific acts such as the one which occurred on Friday. It was less about Lanza, and more about how we, as society, deal with these types of crimes today.

      I agree that evil, in and of itself, is a problematic term and I am not suggesting it necessarily be used (here, I am referring to it as its original use – i.e. deviancy as sin/evil). The greater point I was trying to make was this: we still do not know much about Lanza’s mental state, and while I am not denying that he may have suffered from real conditions which led him to kill 26 innocent people last week, I do want to caution people that ‘medicalising’ the crime isn’t necessarily an answer; and it does diminish the role of personal responsibility in acts like these. It also leads to the erroneous association of certain mental conditions with homicidal behaviour – which I think is a tragedy.

      I am glad this article has sparked a debate on a very important subject.

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