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Wednesday, July 12th 2006

The Question of Free Will In Law

From The Times of London (via Reddit), comes the story of a Virginia man who became a pedophile because of a benign brain tumor. In an odd coincidence, I literally read this piece five minutes after turning off Law & Order: SVU.

[T]otally out of character, he began visiting paedophiliac websites. Next he was making sexual advances to his young stepdaughter, so his wife had him arrested for child molestation. On the point of going to jail, he complained of severe headaches, and a benign tumour the size of an egg was discovered in the “prefrontal” area of his brain. After the op his paedophiliac urges vanished, and he returned to normal.


Doctors theorised that the tumour had restricted blood supply to the area of the brain associated with impulse control. Last year the tumour came back, and so did the paedophiliac urges. He has had a second operation and, for the time being, appears to be his old decent self.

This rears, once again, the debate over incarceration versus treatment. What is the point of the criminal justice system? Vengeance andeterrencece or rehabilitation?

And of course, the much broader question, when is someone responsible and how do you define free will?

Then again, there’s nothing illegal about having such desires (indeed, no one would dispute that having such desires constitutes a mental disease), it is only acting on them, the loss of self control, that is punished. Some studies put pedophilia (the attraction to prepubescentnt children not actual engagement in sexual activity with them) at 7 – 10% of the adult population, pretty creepy, but clearly not that many adults commit actual child molestation…I don’t think (I don’t actually know the statistics).