Interpreting Murder Medically A Medico-Legal Case from an Early 20th Century European Periphery
Title: Interpreting Murder Medically A Medico-Legal Case from an Early 20th Century European Periphery
Author: SKÅLEVÅG, Svein Atle
Publisher: European University Institute
Series/Number: EUI MWP; 2007/21
The paper takes as its departure point a murder case from 1911, when four siblings killed their younger brother in a remote location in northern Norway. This episode becomes an occasion for discussing medical and juridical interpretations of human agency at the turn of the century, and especially of the role of some conception of ‘race’ in these interpretations. The men of medicine and of law sought to give an explanation of what had taken place, and these explanations, as they have been left in the sources, provides us with clues to two different interpretational modes. Four physicians were involved in the case in order to interpret the act and assess the mental state of the defendants. For at least two of them, the racial make-up of the ethnic group to which the actors belonged constituted an inevitable part of the context that made the act intelligible. While the concept or race, and the frameworks of Degenerationism, to a certain degree made the act intelligible, these interpretational schemes had little to offer in terms of assessing the legal accountability of the defendants. Hence the case illustrates the profound epistemological limits of the medical interpretation in facing a legal case.
Subject: Forensic psychiatry; history of medicine; criminal responsibility; racism; Norway
Type of Access: openAccess