Alan A. Stone, 92, dies; The contested use of psychiatry in public policy

Alan A. Stone, an iconoclastic scholar who used his dual-term appointments at Harvard Law and Medical Schools to exert a powerful influence on the evolution of psychiatric ethics over the past half-century, died on January 23 at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 92 years old.

His son Douglas said the cause was laryngeal cancer.

Dr. Stone trained as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and began teaching at Harvard Law School in the late 1960s, just as the foundations of both fields were being scrutinized.

He was at the forefront of questions about how psychiatry is used as a public policy tool; for example, he criticized the role played by psychiatrists in laws banning abortion based on allegations about a woman’s mental health, and in the involuntary commitment of millions of Americans to public mental institutions. .

As psychiatrists began to build careers as expert witnesses in criminal trials, he made enemies by opposing the practice and refusing to speak up himself. This did not prevent him from becoming president of the American Psychiatric Association in 1979, a post where, among other things, he guided the decision to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders of the profession.

Despite his lack of a law degree, Dr. Stone was widely considered one of Harvard Law School’s best and most popular professors. He often lectured with criminal attorney Alan M. Dershowitz, on topics ranging from criminal insanity to Shakespeare.

“They were that perfect yin and yang,” former New York Schools chancellor Joel Klein, who took one of their classes as a law student, said in a phone interview. “Dershowitz was doing what any good Harvard Law School professor does, emphasizing the rational, and what Stone was saying, ‘That’ll get you a little ahead, but what about X?'”

Many former students, including Mr. Klein, have cited Dr. Stone not only as an exemplary teacher, but also as a profound influence on their careers, precisely because his approach differed from the legalistic thinking exhibited by other members of the body. professorial. His colleagues mostly agreed.

“For him, the world was never good or bad,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “It was always ‘why?'”

Partly because of his ability to think deeply and critically, the Department of Justice invited Dr. Stone to join a multidisciplinary panel that would examine the 1993 raid by federal agents on a compound near Waco, Texas, which was occupied by a religious sect called the Branch Davidians. Four agents and 76 cult members were killed, and Dr. Stone’s panel was tasked with assessing whether the tragedy could have been avoided.

But early on, Dr. Stone came to believe that their job was in fact to rubber stamp the government’s own self-exculpatory assessment. He publicly criticized the Justice Department when it refused to provide him with classified documents, and he refused to sign the final review until he was allowed to submit his own dissenting report.

He remained a vocal critic of the government throughout the 1990s, and in 1999 called for the surviving Branch Davidians, several of whom had been sentenced to prison, to be pardoned.

“The Branch Davidians have been more victims than culprits,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that year.

Dr Stone made more enemies in 1995 when he said that Freudian psychoanalysis was no longer useful as a science and was best relegated to the humanities, where it could be used to assess pieces of art.

“Psychoanalysis, both as a theory and as a practice, is an art form,” he said. in a talk at the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. “I don’t think psychoanalysis is an adequate form of treatment.”

Although legions of psychoanalysts were exceptions, for Dr. Stone this assessment was not an insult – he considered art and psychiatry to be intertwined and mutually supportive. In addition to teaching law and literature, he was for years film review for Boston Reviewusing his professional knowledge to unravel films like “Million Dollar Baby” (2004), which he claimed was a story about the ethics of euthanasia, and “The Tree of Life” (2011), which he praised for its treatment of Oedipal conflicts.

Still later, he decried his profession for its complicity in the so-called War on Terror under George W. Bush, when psychiatrists were employed in “enhanced interrogation” sessions that Dr. Stone said amounted to of torture.

“What American law and American psychiatrists and psychologists must do now,” he wrote in The New York Times in 2005, “is reaffirm our fundamental standards of decent and ethical conduct, which seem to have be collapsed in our response to 9/11.”

Alan Abraham Stone was born on August 15, 1929 in Boston. Her father, Julius, was a lawyer and her mother, Betty (Pastan) Stone, was a homemaker. His four grandparents were all Jewish immigrants from Lithuania.

Along with his son Douglas, he is survived by his partner, Laura Maslow-Armand; another son, David; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Sue (Smart) Stone, died in 1996. His daughter, Karen Stone Zieve, died in 1988.

His parents led a liberal family, welcoming Jewish refugees in the 1930s while resisting anti-Semitic prejudice; despite clear qualifications, her father struggled to secure a low-level judgeship.

He attended Boston Latin School and Harvard, where he majored in social relations. He also played right tackle on the varsity football team; among his teammates on the 1947 roster was Robert F. Kennedy.

He graduated in 1950 and received his medical degree from Yale in 1955. He completed his residency at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and trained in psychoanalysis at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.

At one point, he made an exception to his refusal to testify as an expert witness. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy arranged a ‘trial’ for Hamlet in 1994, on the premise that he had survived the play’s gory ending and was now charged with the murder of Polonius, his adviser. uncle.

The question, as Judge Kennedy constructed it, was not whether Hamlet had killed Polonius – this is clear in the play – but whether he was not guilty by reason of insanity. Mr. Klein, a former student of Dr. Stone, was working at the White House at the time, and he suggested his former professor as an expert witness for the prosecution.

The mock trial took place several times (in most cases the jury was deadlocked), including in 1996 at Boston University.

When asked at this event if he had familiarized himself with the “file” of the case – that is, the exhibit itself – Dr Stone replied: “Yes, and I agree with Justice that it is well written.”

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