IN THE LAW'S DARKNESS: INSANITY AND THE MEDICAL-LEGAL CAREER OF ISAAC RAY, 1807-1881
HUGHES, JOHN STARRETT
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation traces the medical-legal career of Isaac Ray, a prominent physician who specialized in the treatment of insanity and wrote extensively on medical jurisprudence. Ray's writings influenced every major development in the common law of insanity during his lifetime, including the famous trial of Daniel McNaghten in 1843, "irresistible impulse" tests, and the New Hampshire doctrine of criminal insanity. Ray's brand of human psychology was both materialistic and deterministic. Until the early 1830s he championed phrenology which held that all of a person's mental attributes were the result of the functioning of discrete organs in the brain. Thereafter Ray was America's leading advocate of a controversial concept called moral insanity which held that victims of mental disease could not help but act in ways they knew to be wrong. Ray's belief in moral insanity's uncontrollable impulses provided the foundation for his unyielding criticisms of the common law and dramatized his fundamental conflict with legal thinkers. Anglo-American common law implied that a person was responsible whenever he could distinguish right from wrong. By stressing uncontrollable impulses, Ray's medical determinism challenged the law's assumption of man's free agency. Ray also lobbied actively in favor of involuntary confinement of the insane. From the 1840s through the 1870s, he wrote and promoted a model law sanctioning the forced commitment of people whom physicians had judged to be insane. Ray bitterly opposed judicial interference in asylum confinement procedures because he believed that judges and juries were scientifically too unsophisticated to determine whether someone should be committed. Moreover, he opposed government oversight of the confinement of the insane because state regulation conflicted with his ideals of asylum management. Both in his attacks on criminal law and in his defense of involuntary confinement Ray sought to give physicians quasi-judicial authority by weakening the actual authority of judges and juries. In criminal cases he stressed the value of expert testimony in determining responsibility and in confinement law he emphasized the control of the asylum manager.