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When a Psychiatrist Is Given a Prison Sentence After a Patient Commits a Crime: Comments on a Disconcerting Case

When a Psychiatrist Is Given a Prison Sentence After a Patient Commits a Crime: Comments on a Disconcerting Case

Psychiatric liabilityMy thanks to Drs Jonas and Abou for updating us on this most unusual and concerning case of psychiatric liability in France. I can claim no expertise regarding the French legal system, and so must refrain from any comments on legal procedure. That said, this case and its aftermath has all the earmarks of the alarming cases we have become so familiar with in the US. To wit:

1. Reactive law making in response to a single tragedy

2. Assumptions about patient control and prediction of dangerousness

3. Enhanced fear among psychiatrists

American psychiatrists might be able to sympathize in the wake of recent mass tragedies leading to new, hastily conceived laws that directly impinge on psychiatric practice, confidentiality, and duty to protect third parties. In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, New York made a concerted effort to become the first state to pass an amendment to the Mental Hygiene Law designed to “ensure that persons who are mentally ill and dangerous cannot retain or obtain a firearm,” which it called the NY SAFE Act of 2013. The act was passed quickly, and without much time for mental health input and deliberation.

Lastly, my lack of knowledge of the French legal system aside, I cannot overlook the symbolic irony contained in this scenario: a psychiatrist is given a prison sentence as a result of her patient’s criminal act. It would appear that society wants us to control certain individuals so urgently that we must step into these individuals shoes, don the garb of their transgressions, and confine ourselves to punitive isolation. What kind of treatment can be done in such a restrictive atmosphere? I can only suppose it might be limited and cautious.

 
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