A Modern Day Cain and Abel Story


Are we our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?




One of the well-known Biblical stories is that of Cain and Abel, who were said to be the children of the first parents, Adam and Eve. Cain killed his brother Abel. When approached about that by God, he responds: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The media recently reported that Jeffrey Burnham also was not his brother’s keeper. On September 29, he allegedly killed his pharmacist brother and 2 others because his brother was “killing people with the COVID shot.”

Leading up to this tragedy, the news reported him warning and worrying his mother about this possibility. She apparently called the local police more than once with concern about her son’s mental stability. At some point, the police sent out an alert, but he was not seen until he was arrested the day after the killings, during which he confessed his guilt.

Besides he and his brothers’ unknown individual and family history, several social psychiatric issues and questions come readily to the fore:

1. Was Burnham influenced by any of the hundreds of websites reporting misinformation about the coronavirus?

2. Given that mental illness itself is only associated with increased violence if it is severe and untreated, was that the case here?

3. Did the police unit in this case have mental health professionals imbedded in their system to help assess the original concerns of the mother and perhaps prevent the outcome?

4. More generally, are we failing as a society and sometimes as a family to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

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