Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Head To Head Maudsley Debate

Do cases like that of Anders Breivik show that fanaticism is a form of madness? No

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 11 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4647

Rapid Response:

Re: Do cases like that of Anders Breivik show that fanaticism is a form of madness? No

Your poll on the Maudsley debate will be uninterpretable since it confounds the question of mental illness in fanatics in general and Breivik in particular. Fahy rehearses the popular view that meticulous planning as with Breivik rules out or at least greatly reduces the likelihood of mental illness. I empirically tested this seemingly self-evident proposition on 764 persons indicted for murder in the UK from 1957-62, rating each case for evidence of true murder, ie definite intent to kill at least half an hour before the homicide. The incidence of "willful" murder was 16% in those executed, 22% in those convicted of murder but not executed, 31% in those convicted of manslaughter, 50% for those guilty but insane, 64% for those unfit to plead and 80% for those murderers who subsequent tried but failed to kill themselves. In other words, there was a clear positive relation between mental illness and intent to kill. Psychiatrists in the Yorkshire Ripper case agreed he had schizophrenia, yet the judge and jury ignored this as his murders were well planned. Had there still been capital punishment he would certainly have been hanged. Are psychiatrists happy that schizophrenics whose illness led them to kill someone should be executed, as some still are in the USA?

I attended a similar debate in the UK some years ago on the politicization of psychiatry in the Soviet Union. Half way through, the doors were flung open and a very well known Soviet dissident strode in and immediately launched into a tirade, saying it was disgraceful he had not been informed of this debate, it was all a conspiracy, etc.

Gordon AG. The iller the killer, the worse the purpose. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 1998;26:683-6.

Competing interests: No competing interests

21 July 2012
Anthony Grant Gordon
Independent Scholar
32 Love Walk, London SE5 8AD