Psychopharmacology: Some Medicolegal Aspects
As human beings, our basic biological instincts are modified by social rules imposed by our societies.1 Many, but not all, of our social rules reflect moral and ethical principles. Some, usually the most important, of these social institutions and conventions are governed by the rules of law. Codes of law can be complex, extending to numerous coruscating, detailed volumes. In a complex society, almost all human activity is governed in some way by the law. Psychopharmacology is a branch of science that studies the activities of the most complex human organ, the brain. Inevitably, it is closely enmeshed with rules and regulations usually imposed by the authority of the law of the land, and increasingly by international conventions.2 Safety is a prime consideration and usually takes precedence over efficacy. Both criminal and civil law contain swathes of material directly relevant to psychopharmacology. Rules of law may forbid certain activities or specify certain obligatory actions. Legal rules are normative-what should happen rather than what actually does happen. They prescribe rules of behavior to which we are expected to conform. If we do not, the law can apply sanctions ranging from a fine or restriction of liberty to the death penalty, which still is imposed in a minority of countries, especially for illicit drug violations.