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Letters to the Editor

From time to time, a commentary on the world will bubble up inside of me to the extent that I'm forced to write a letter to my local, metropolitan, daily newspaper, The Age. This is where I blow of some steam. Feel like venting too? Add your own comment or visit my homepage.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Medical Justice

When is killing murder? This vexing issue has been in the public eye due to a number of reviews and high-profile cases. As barrister Douglas Potter points out (Letters, 8/12), the key is the perpetrator's mental state at the time. In comparing the provocation defence with infanticide, Mr Potter has drawn the ire of mental health professional Dr Patrick Kavanagh (Letters, 9/12).

Dr Kavanagh may be frightened by Mr Potter's understanding of mental health, but Dr Kavangh's assumptions frightens me. He maintains that while post-natal depression is a "serious mental illness" (no doubt), provocation is about "transferring responsibility to the victim" and there is a "clear distinction between such cases".

In other words the former is medically "real" (has an organic basis in brain chemistry) while the latter is not.

If a woman kills her child or her husband then, from a legal perspective, her mental state at the time will determine her degree of culpability.

Why should the medical fraternity have a stranglehold on the legal system's understanding of mental processes? Surely a broader view than genes and hormones is essential to just and compassionate decision-making.


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