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Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Rules and fallacies

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 28 September 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6067
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

There has long been a controversy over how the name M’Naghten, of the so called M’Naghten Rules, or criteria for legal insanity, should be spelt. Richard Moran, in his 1981 book on the case, Knowing Right from Wrong, says that there are 12 known spellings; he plumps for McNaughtan.

This, of course, is not the only controversy surrounding it. M’Naghten shot Edward Drummond, Sir Robert Peel’s private secretary, in 1843, mistaking him for the prime minister himself. (Oddly enough, Professor Moran adds to the confusion by being unable to decide whether the victim was called Edward or Edmund Drummond.) M’Naghten believed that he was being persecuted by the government and the Tory party and was found not guilty by reason …

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