LAW, HUMANITIES AND MEDICINE
Medical Testimony and Defenses to Murder Charges
Among the popular defenses advanced in legal films is that of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) and defense lawyers' or defendants' attempts to "put one over" on the legal system by falsely claiming its effects. Some films involving MPD are The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (TVM 1989), Primal Fear (1996) and Murder in Mind (1997). For information on MPD see, for example, A History of the Study of MPD/DID, Multiple Personality Disorder.
Other unusual defenses include the "sleepwalking defense", based on a real case and made into the television movie The Sleepwalker Killing (aka From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries: The Sleepwalker Killing). The legal status of sleepwalking defenses is still unclear. See Peter Ridgway, Sleepwalking: Insanity or Automatism, 3 E-Law (May 1996). More information is also available at the National Sleep Foundation, in American Association of Family Practitioners, Information from Your Family Doctor: Sleepwalking in Children, in Bruce Epstein, Sleepwalking in Children. For a biological perspective see Marion Howard, Sleepwalking (student paper).
The "Crime Doctor" and the Law
Over the years the image of the coroner, the forensic psychiatrist and/or the medical examiner has been a common one in popular culture. The "Crime Doctor" series of films, made in the 1940s and based on a popular radio show, featured a mystery solving physician, Dr. Ordway (Warner Baxter). Patricia Cornwell's Dr. Kay Scarpetta mystery novels, Dick van Dyke's tv series Diagnosis: Murder and the long-running Quincy, ME television series (starring Jack Klugman) provide differing images of the doctor involved in solving crimes. Some interesting themes in these films, books and television shows include conflicts between medical ethics and the law with regard to confessions, the incapacity of the perpetrator, and any deception on the part of the physician. Another common role is that of the physician as accomplice (sometimes unwitting) in some nefarious plot.
Sometimes the physician is a government employee, as in QBVII, or in some episodes of the X-Files. The "mad doctor" experimenting on helpless subjects frequently drives horror and thriller films, as in the story of Dr. Frankenstein. The fear that the very person to whom you entrust your life is using you for experimentation is a fairly common theme, as in the television movie The Cradle Will Fall (1983), based on a Mary Higgins Clark novel and starring Lauren Hutton as a deputy DA who discovers that her doctor is doing illegal fertility experiments on his patients. Her heroic boyfriend physician, who doubles as the county coroner, helps her uncover the plot. Another Frankenstein-like plot is the basis for the X-Files episode "Mutato". H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau has been filmed several times, in 1933, in 1977, and in 1996, proving that evil scientists have not lost their glamour.
Greedy scientists and physicians populate the film Coma (1978) in which Genevieve Bujold is a doctor who discovers that hospital personnel are deliberately sabotaging operations in order to harvest human organs.
The television show Picket Fences also supplies a number of medico-legal questions ranging from euthanasia to malpractice. Other shows that discuss legal issues in medicine include Chicago Hope and ER. New medical shows on the horizon for the 2002 television season include Everwood, Presidio Med, Women Docs, and The Oath, all of which promise lots of legal complications along with their doses of medicine.
Currently, tv shows such as CSI and its spinoffs provide both entertainment and some education for audiences, although real forensics types complain that the show exaggerates both the time element and the resources available to forensics teams. See The CSI Effect: Big Surprise, TV Is Dramatized. See also this bibliography.
Films dealing with medicolegal ethics include Altered States () and Malice (1993).
Public health law topics that often feature in films and television episodes include epidemics. Panic in the Streets (1950) actually features Richard Widmark as an heroic U. S. Public Health Service physician fighting an epidemic in the streets of New Orleans by tracking a carrier while police try to catch the man who is suspected of murder. The epidemic in this case is bubonic plague. The film was remade in 1972 as Killer by Night (also known as City by Night) and starred Robert Wagner as the physician; the epidemic was diptheria. Outbreaks of plague are also the McGuffin in The Andromeda Strain (1971) based on a Michael Crichton novel.
Lists of mad scientists abound. Here is one from LiveScience. The History Channel discusses the notion of the mad scientist here; here's more from Strangemag.com. And check out Anders (sic) Mad Scientists Page. Here's a excellent chart showing what mad scientists study. This article links to the chart and to other material as well. Want to read more about mad scientists in popular culture? Here's a short bibliography.
Law, the Humanities, Medicine and Animal Rights
A first season episode ("Theme of Life") of the series Ally McBeal featured a patient who sued her physician for using a pig's organ to maintain her life until a suitable human donor organ could be found. Broadcast March 9, 1998 it featured Jesse L. Martin as the physician, Liz Torres as the patient and Linda Gehringer as Attorney General Reno.
Films such as Free Willy () and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home () argue for the equality of or at least recognition of the rights of intelligent mammals, in these cases, whales. Turtle Diary () chronicles the adventures of a couple who meet at a London zoo and decide to set free some sea turtles. Related concepts include the rights of non-humans, such as aliens and artificial life.
See also discussions of environmental law and popular culture.
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