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Sposini on Certifying Insanity in Ontario

Filippo Maria Sposini, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, has published Just the Basic Facts: The Certification of Insanity in the Era of the Form K in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 75 (April 2020): 171–192: 

This paper investigates the certification of insanity through a standardized template called Form K which was used in Ontario between 1873 and 1883. My main thesis is that the introduction of the Form K had profound and long-lasting effects on the determination of insanity. In particular, it created a unique case in the history of certification, it grounded civil confinement on a strategy of consensus, and it informed mental health documentation for more than a century. As the result of a transnational mediation from Victorian England, the Form K prescribed an examination setting which involved a high number of participants, including three physicians and several witnesses. By comparing this case with other jurisdictions of the time, this paper shows how Ontario became a distinctive case worldwide. In order to get a closer look at this medico-legal procedure, I consider the archival records of the Toronto asylum and conclude that the certification of insanity relied on a strategy of consensus. While the Form K proved quite successful in preventing legal actions, it produced financial, logistic, and bureaucratic issues. The Form K was thus discontinued after a decade, yet its structure influenced Ontario’s mental health documentation throughout the twentieth century. This paper shows the relevance of the certification of insanity for transnational history and for understanding contemporary issues of involuntary confinement and stigma in mental health.

--Dan Ernst

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