Yesterday (May 8, 2013), Jodi Arias was found guilty of murdering her boyfriend. Actually, she more than murdered him, she virtually obliterated him. Stabbing him 29 times, shooting him in the face, and slitting his throat almost from ear to ear. She made damned fucking sure he was dead.
That alone should qualify her as a psychopath. However, she's also a pathological liar. She had several versions of her story, finally admitting that she killed him but in, as she termed it, "self defense." She trotted in battered woman syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder, and just about everything but the kitchen sink in an effort to beat the rap.
She may get the death penalty, but should she? The syllable "path" in "psychopath" and "pathological liar" indicates a sickness. She's not a mentally healthy person.
pathology (n.) "science of diseases," 1610s, from French pathologie (16c.), from medical Latin pathologia "study of disease," from Greek pathos "suffering" (source)
As revolting as the murder was, can we separate her guilt from the sickness from which she suffers?
More generally, suppose all crimes could be traced back to some sort of pathology. What would happen to the entire concept of guilt? And suppose that once a pathology was identified, there was a "cure." Could we ethically hold people responsible for their actions before the cure, given their diminished capacity for making proper ethical choices?
A lot of "what if" scenarios being floated here. You can make a sound case for executing psychopaths on the grounds that they are dangerous to other members of society, regardless of any issues of guilt or responsibility, and thus too much bother to keep around. You could argue that a rehabilitative cure might be found, but one would need to evaluate the cost of finding such a cure, in the face of other demands for limited resources (cure psychopaths or cure cancer?).
And is the cost worth the benefit? We allow 50,000+ Americans to die each year from traffic accidents because as a society we don't think saving some or all of those 50,000 lives justifies the increased costs (in the broad sense of the word) of requiring more rigorous driver training (test track courses, skid pads, high-speed maneuver training), enacting more draconian laws against distracted & impaired driving, maintaining larger police forces for enforcement, or developing more crash-resistant cars. We allow thousands to die of obesity-related diseases because as a society we are not willing to accept the economic and political costs of banning entire categories of food and beverages.
As far as all crime being a pathology, that doesn't necessarily hold water. The man or woman who steals food to feed his or her family is not automatically suffering from diminished capacity to know theft is a crime; s/he is making a reasoned choice of the lesser of two evils: commit a crime against property rather than be a party to allowing death by starvation.
George Bernard Shaw covers this extensively and with sharp insight in his long preface to his play "Major Barbara": I recommend anyone interested in crime and punishment read it first.
And is the cost worth the benefit? We allow 50,000+ Americans to die each year from traffic accidents because as a society we don't think saving some or all of those 50,000 lives justifies the increased costs (in the broad sense of the word) of requiring more rigorous driver training.
As they exist now, high school driver courses seems to be nothing more than an expensive failure. In some cases, I remember reading, their graduates can actually have higher accident rates than those who opt out of such training (overly confident)?
"Despite widespread appeal of driver education, scientific evaluations indicate that it does not produce safer drivers," the National Highway Safety Administration said in a 2009 report. "Although it may be 'common sense' to think that driver education is the preferred way to learn how to drive, the notion that a traditional driver education course can by itself produce safer drivers is optimistic." (source)
The sort of "driver's education" I was speaking about is the more expensive and far more effective kind offered by race schools such as Jim Russell, Skip Barber or Bob Bondurant, where days of track time at high speed are part of the core curriculum, to teach vehicle dynamics, threshold braking, weight transfer, cornering, etc. This sort of "driver's ed" is expensive— $1300 to $1600 per day —but produces skilled drivers who are less likely to treat a car as a rolling juke box. However, the cost of mandating several thousand dollars of advanced training like this for every new driver would run into millions, and society won't accept that cost/benefit equation.
I live in an area with roundabouts, so I don't think I'd be lost at a roundabout. Of course, that'd be after I'd grown accustomed to driving on the wrong side of the road. ;)