Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Psychoanalysis and Compassion: the Death Penalty

With the two recent posts on this blog, one by Tim LaDuca on May 31, 2011 (about the compassion of psychoanalysis), and one by Loren Buckner on June 2, 2011, (describing --regarding the Anthony case-- how even good parents can sometimes harbor hateful, even murderous thoughts, toward their children), I was reminded of an article I had read.

Appearing in the May 9, 2011 issue of The New Yorker, the article The Mitigator by Jeffrey Toobin reported on the decline of the use of the death penalty, particularly in Texas, where defense attorneys have, in the last decade, finally begun to utilize the opportunity to present mitigating evidence to the prosecutor before the charging decision is made. In addition to medical history, MRIs, and character witnesses, an extensive life history is conducted and used to help explain how “'a beloved brother and husband and father and son can also commit a terrible act.’” This enables the jury to have mercy, both on the defendant and the defendant’s family members.

Scharlette Holdman, an anthropologist and “a pioneer in the field” of providing into evidence a mitigation narrative (e.g. for Ted Kaczynski the Unabomber) said, “'That narrative is not there for the asking…It requires not just knowledge and skill but experience in how you search for, identify, locate, recognize, and preserve the information.’” Having read this article, my first thought as an analyst was: who is better to help identify, recognize, and construct a compassionate life story than a psychoanalyst? Forensic work is not my favorite, but it seems to me that the mitigation narrative screams out for the skill of the psychoanalyst, especially one with experience in childhood traumas, who is an expert in co-constructing a compelling story of a person’s life and is able “to create a complex portrait of a haunted and troubled defendant.”

The article featured Danalynn Recer, a Texas attorney and defense strategist for capital cases, who is quoted as saying, “'I don’t apologize for saying I love my clients in all their complexity. We insist on seeing their humanity despite what they’ve done.'” Now couldn’t that also be said by analysts about their clients/patients?

No comments: