How We Treat the Insane

The Norwegian government came out today and said that it is highly unlikely that Anders Breivik, the self–confessed mass murderer, will be able to claim insanity in his defense.  They opinioned something to the effect, “if one is hearing voices, it would be hard for them to drive a car, more less carry out a plan years in the making.”  Hmmm.  Here is a man who thought killing scores of young people at a political summer camp would help rise up a mass revolt against Muslims. The killing spree would also be a powerful statement against non-traditional values that have become the norm in Europe (like mothers working away from home, in his view).  He believed his attack would generate many other such killings.  In his diaries he reports how he had become an expert on European business affairs and cultural affairs even though his life history reflects none of that.  If the reports on his journals and his comments after the attack are accurate, he is clearly off his rocker.  So, why the push to make sure he can’t plead insanity?

The answer is vengeance.  We do not like it when people who commit horrible crimes can receive anything less than our maximum punishment.  We commonly believe that by giving the maximum punishment that it is a deterrent to future crimes likes his occurring.  There is only one problem with this and that is you cannot deter someone who is insane to think through the ramification of their actions logically.  I doubt that no matter what the penalty that it would have reached a horribly confused mind like that of Breivik.  The only answer is, when possible, to intervene with such individuals before their insanity leads them to these atrocious acts.  And that means re-prioritizing mental health care and especially mental health intervention.  Mental health testing should be as regular a part of our health testing as cardiac testing is today.

I don’t know enough of the Norwegian legal system to know what will happen to this sad and confused soul of a man.  But I do know this, killing him or even putting him in a regular prison for many years will not cure his insanity and will not bring back any of his victims.

The insane need to be contained and the public needs to be protected from them.  But, if only, someone had interacted with this young man far earlier in his life, his life (and many others) might have turned out far differently.  You can’t punish people out of mental illness.  But we can treat it and be on the lookout for it.

Jesus certainly didn’t call on the ‘demon possessed’ to be eradicated.

What do you think?

Until next time,



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