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Handling a manslaughter case

THIS is in response to heart-rending news that a ‘man slaughtered two infant daughters’ and surrendered himself to the police authority in Karachi (July 14). This was an FIR report which was exhibited on the lead page of Dawn’s Metropolitan section.

The reason cited by the perpetrator was an erroneous belief that the two infants were illegitimate. No details were given regarding earlier accusation of infidelity by the perpetrator or how he had come to establish this as a fact.

In this situation the person seems to have acted purely out of delusion – infidelity type. Literature in psychiatry bears testimony to the statistics that such abnormal beliefs are common in men, compared to women.

In this case, the person seems to be struggling with a mental disorder, which is called psychosis, in general terms, though one needs to do a detailed mental status examination in order to establish this. A detailed history should establish or rule out mood disorder with psychotic symptoms and substance use disorder, especially mental and behavioral disorder secondary to cannabis use.

A forensic psychiatrist should be able to ascertain this robustly. One also needs to look in to the psycho-social circumstances besides talking to the next of kin. Person’s wife and brother seem to be key informants in this case.

The Mental Health Ordinance (2001) provides the legislative framework for handling such cases. In circumstances where a clear ‘intent’ cannot be established, as person was suffering from mental disorder at the time of committing the crime, the offence of ‘manslaughter’ cannot be established.

In short, in cases where mental disorder is established by two independent mental health authorities (psychiatrist with good standing), care and rehabilitation has to be offered in the parameters of forensic psychiatric facilities.

We presume that law will take its natural course of action. However, it is best that cases like these should not be showcased for general readership; firstly it seems to be muddled with the issues of mental disorder, secondly facts regarding the case have not been established. Sensationalising such news doesn’t do any good to anyone.

Consultant psychiatrist
Source: Dawn