What do we get when being sociopathic, lacking empathy, chasing thrills, and leaving a body count in one’s wake is paired with wealth, privilege and an A-list defense? The hot new term: Affluenza.  This term was used as an actual defense in the case of Ethan Couch, a privileged young man who chose to drive while intoxicated, which resulted in four deaths and a friend now living with severe spinal cord and brain injuries.

This annoying new term was coined in the Couch case by questionable psychology and has begun to germinate within our collective consciousness.  The term Affluenza caused a national gag reflex—and as a doctor I can assure you that, no, Affluenza is not a real affliction. It is a constructed excuse for behavior that gives a privileged teen an out because his father is a millionaire and his defense team is of the Gucci variety. Yet the judge, a seemingly intelligent and well-regarded woman, apparently bought it.  We know that failure of justice is not infrequent; it just never had such a cringeworthy label. I would like to eradicate this word from our vocabularies going forward.

If there were to be a word cloud created for this last week’s newsworthy topics, Affluenza would take a prominent position with gigantic letters overshadowing words like Mandela and Iran.  Over and over again, we were subjected to this rather irritating term; semantically a combination of a state of affluence and apparently a viral type of affliction that has been posited to cause a sense of self-entitlement, rule breaking, haughtiness, and a lack of empathy or remorse for one’s bad behavior.  Affluenza is touted as a disease that seems able to remove all accountability.

To the public’s amazement and disgust, thisAffluenza defense actually worked. Couch was not sentenced to an iota of time in a juvenile detention center or prison.  He will instead be convalescing in a five-star rehabilitation facility with his own personal therapy horse, yoga sessions and cooking classes for at least a year. Wouldn’t we all be healthier with our own therapy pony? Couch’s parents will be shelling out nearly half a million dollars for the privilege to “protect” their son from the harsh realities of a broken system by using their own broken system of throwing money at a problem. 

If this defense seems absurd to anyone watching at home—that would be because it is completely absurd.

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