THE article, "Epileptic acquitted of murder charge" (Straits Times, March 18 2000), was a negative portrayal of persons with epilepsy.
The comment "unsound mind" was both inappropriate and inaccurate.
It reinforces the impression that people with seizures are of "unsound mind". It has done nothing to improve the public perception of people with seizure disorders.
In non-medical circles, epilepsy is still often considered a type of mental illness. It is not a mental illness.
To have epilepsy is to have recurrent seizures (or fits or convulsions - they all mean the same thing).
A seizure is a temporary state of abnormal electrical activity within the brain.
The word "temporary" is important. Persons with epilepsy sometimes have occasional seizures, but they do not have an illness any more than someone who has occasional headaches.
Being labeled as "epileptic" can cause considerable social damage.
It devalues the person, reducing him from a unique and sensitive human being into a member of a category devised for convenience or control.
Once a person is recognized as having seizures, he loses many privileges.
Some losses, such as having his driving license revoked after a seizure, are legally mandated and are defensible on safety grounds Others are less justifiable and have broader implications.
Life insurance becomes more difficult to secure, and health insurance is often more expensive. Marital choices narrow and employment opportunities become more limited.
Persons with epilepsy may commit robbery, assault, rape or murder, but not because they have epilepsy.
They commit crimes for the same reasons that people without epilepsy commit crimes. Criminal intent does not arise from epilepsy.
GOH KENG HWEE
Epilepsy Care Group
I refer to the letter, "Epileptics are not prone to crime", by Mr Goh Keng Hwee of the Epilepsy Care Group (Straits Times, March 21 2000).
I absolutely agree with Mr Gob that epilepsy is not a mental illness, and is not a direct cause of criminal offences.
Medical science does not classify epilepsy as mental illness.
But the article "Epileptic acquitted of murder charge" (Straits Times, March 18 2000), could have led a reader to conclude that epilepsy is a mental illness.
The article also failed to clarify the legal definition of "unsoundness of mind" - this term does not equate to mental illness.
It simply means that the accused did not know what he was doing, as a result of a mental or medical condition.
In the case reported, the accused had an epileptic attack at the time he killed his brother-in-law. He did not have a mental illness.
As he was having An epileptic attack, he could not have formed the criminal intent to kill.
It is only for the purpose of the law that he was found to be of "unsound mind" at the time of the killing, so that he can be acquitted.
People with epilepsy are often misunderstood and socially disadvantaged.
To label them as mentally ill is unjust. Epilepsy is not a mental illness. I hope my explanation will address the concerns of the Epilepsy Care Group.
DR TOMMY TAN