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Hist Psychiatry. 1997 Dec;8(32):487-500.

Chloroform-induced insanity defence confounds lawyer Lincoln.

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College of Medicine, State University of New York, Brooklyn, NY 11203, USA.


During an 1857 trial, the defence claimed that the accused should be absolved of wilful murder because an overdose of chloroform during surgery induced insanity. In a rare appearance as a prosecutor, Abraham Lincoln tried the case for the State of Illinois. Expert medical witnesses testified about the side effects of chloroform and chloroform-induced insanity. Significantly, Lincoln was not knowledgeable about medical jurisprudence and overlooked potential sources of evidence and expert witnesses. Defence lawyers presented an impressive array of physicians to testify about insanity, about chloroform and about the results of an overdosage during anaesthesia. Considering the state of scientific knowledge at the time, the trial was notable.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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