September 25, 2022

Is using Prozac a valid defence for murder?

One of the more interesting films released this year has been Steven Soderbergh’s psychological thriller Side Effects.

One of the more interesting films released this year has been Steven Soderbergh’s psychological thriller Side Effects (84% on Rotten Tomatoes). The film addresses a number of bioethical issues associated with anti-depressants. The main character is prescribed a fictional drug Ablixa for serious depression. We are led to think it has radically altered her behavior and prompted her to murder her husband (there is more to the story than this, but we won’t spoil it). 

The blog Neuroethics has examined what is now known as the ‘Prozac defence’. In a number of recent cases, defendants claimed that Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) altered their mental states and led them to make decisions they otherwise would not have. Neuroethics author Julia Marshall stresses the difficulty of assessing causality in such cases, but nevertheless believes it can sometimes be a valid defense.

With the defense become more common every year, it seems that appropriate legal frameworks need to be developed to systematize judicial decisions.

In 1998 Smith Kline was required to pay out $6.4 million to the family of Donald Schell, a man who after being prescribed Prozac killed his family and himself. 

Xavier Symons
Creative commons
informed consent
legal responsibility
serontins