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What Is the Difference Between 'Clinically' and 'Legally'?

By Holly South on June 16, 2022

The lines between clinical diagnoses and legal classifications are sometimes blurry. However, there are a few crucial differences when it comes to needing legal assistance.

A health care professional makes a clinical diagnosis for the purpose of medical care. That clinical diagnoses, however, can also be used to aid in legal classifications. For example, a clinical diagnosis of blindness can aid in being considered “legally blind," which can help you get disability benefits.

Clinically Blind vs. Legally Blind

You are considered clinically blind if you are visually impaired or have complete loss of vision that glasses or contact lenses are unable to reverse. While this is also a diagnosis that you can use to file for disability, a clinical diagnosis of blindness is much more severe than a legal classification of blindness.

You are considered legally blind when your better eye is 20/200 or less and its visual field is 20 degrees or less. In addition to applying for disability benefits, the legal definition of blindness is used for determining driving privileges and public safety.

Clinically Insane vs. Legally Insane

While there is no specific term “clinical insanity," the legal definition is lacking the ability to understand the law. This can include in civil matters, such as the inability to make your own decisions with regard to estate planning, contracts, marriage, etc. In criminal matters it means not understanding that you've committed a criminal act or the consequences of those actions. Legal insanity is a defense used in court to argue that you cannot be held responsible for your actions.

Clinically speaking, however, perseveration can be used as a term to describe impulsive actions committed due to obsessive-compulsive disorder, dementia, or traumatic brain injury. This means that you might feel the need, or an uncontrollable impulse, to repeat actions or words to try and solve a problem, but with no sense of accomplishment or relief. This may lead to further actions to try to solve this internal problem.

Pleading Insanity

The insanity defense is used in hopes of achieving a not guilty verdict or avoiding a trial altogether by arguing that the defendant does not understand the legal proceedings enough to receive a fair trial. The insanity defense means arguing that the allegedly guilty party was insane at the time of the crime, meaning they had no control over, or did not understand, what they were doing. This means that person cannot actually be guilty. However, it is very hard to prove insanity at the time of the crime.

Clinically Dead vs. Legally Dead

A person is declared clinically dead when blood circulation and breathing completely stops. The difference in the case of declaring someone “legally dead" is that resuscitation is not possible. Usually, a doctor must declare that a person is dead, or a body must be found for a legal death declaration.

So, if someone were to flatline and then be brought back to life through CPR, for example, they would only be considered clinically dead during the time when their heart had stopped beating. If CPR was unsuccessful, however, and the person was declared as dead by the doctor, then they would legally be dead.

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