Apparently, a recent study of the man behind the bombing of Oslo’s government district and shooting at a youth camp in Norway last summer has concluded that Anders Behring Breivik is not psychotic, and is therefore fit to stand trial. Breivik claims to be an anti-Muslim militant, and stated that he planned and carried out the attacks to fight multiculturalism and Muslim immigration to Europe. In November, two psychiatrists determined that Breivik was paranoid schizophrenic, and therefore unfit to serve a prison sentence. He would instead be sent to a mental hospital. This week, two new psychiatrists thoroughly re-evaluated Breivik by observing him 24 hours per day, and have determined that he planned the attacks for years and is not psychotic. The competing reports must now be sent to the Oslo District Court judges, who must determine whether Breivik is insane and therefore not fit to stand trial. What do you think – is he sane or insane?
Although this is not my area of expertise, it seems to me that “insane” is evolving into a term of art under Norwegian law, meaning that while Breivik may satisfy the psychological definition of insane, he may not satisfy a narrow, legal definition, which is colored very much by the heinous nature of Breivik’s acts. I have to believe most Norwegian people want to see Breivik stand trial, and serve the maximum prison sentence, and if Breivik is put in a mental hospital instead, most Norwegians would be disappointed. This notion may be influencing Breivik’s diagnosis, but is that such a bad thing?
The findings of the more recent forensic psychiatrists seem a little confusing. First, if he was initially found to be paranoid schizophrenic then it is not likely it went away – but perhaps has been treated by medication in the time period since then. So the new determination that he is not seems suspicious in my mind. I think that it is important to take into account his whole mental health history and the treatment he is currently receiving. Second, the second forensic psychiatrists finding that he had planned the attack for years seems to have no bearing on his mental health state. There are many different kinds of psychotic mental illnesses and even many kinds of schizophrenia, so for them to determine that because he seems to have planned it for years, that he is not psychotic concerns me.