"Gross indecency" of Alan Turing - Punishment, Suicide and now Pardon !

Alan M. Turing

Alan M. Turing, (born June 23, 1912 - June 7, 1954), British mathematician and logician, who made major contributions to mathematics, cryptanalysis, logic, philosophy, and biology and to the new areas of computer science, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and artificial life. Turing was a founding father of Artificial Intelligence and a leading exponent of the hypothesis that the human brain is in large part a digital computing machine. He theorized that the cortex of human brain at birth is an “unorganised machine” that through “training” becomes organized “into a universal machine or something like it.” Alan Mathison Turing is considered to be the father of modern computer science.

Signs of the genius, early in life

Very early in life, Alan Mathison Turing showed signs of the genius. In 1926, at the age of 14, he went on to Sherborne School, a famous and expensive public school. His first day of term coincided with the General Strike in England, but so determined was he to attend his first day that he rode his bicycle unaccompanied more than 60 miles (97 km) from Southampton to school, stopping overnight at an inn.

Inspite of the above acheivements, Alan Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality and sentenced to 12 months of hormone “therapy” (Chemical castration).

In January 1952, Turing started a relationship with Arnold Murray, a 19-year-old unemployed man. Turing met Murray just before Christmas outside the Regal Cinema when walking down Manchester's Oxford Road and had invited him to lunch. On 23 January Turing's house was burgled. Murray told Turing that the burglar was an acquaintance of his, and Turing reported the crime to the police. During the investigation Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray. Homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time, and both were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. Later, convinced by the advice of his brother and other lawyers, Turing entered a plea of "guilty", in spite of the fact that he felt no remorse or guilt for having committed criminal acts of homosexuality. The case was brought to trial on 31 March 1952, where Turing was convicted, and given a choice between imprisonment or probation conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido (sex drive). He accepted the option of treatment via injections of stilboestrol, a synthetic oestrogen; this treatment was continued for the course of one year. The treatment rendered Turing impotent and caused gynaecomastia (enlargement of breast tissue in males), fulfilling in the literal sense, Turing's prediction that "no doubt I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I've not found out". Murray was given a conditional discharge.

Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, made gross indecency a crime in the United Kingdom. The Act contained no definition of "gross indecency," as Victorian morality demurred from precise descriptions of activity held to be immoral. In practice, the law was used broadly to prosecute male homosexuals where actual sodomy (meaning, in this context, anal intercourse) could not be proven. The penalty of life imprisonment for sodomy (until 1861 it had been death) was also so harsh that successful prosecutions were rare. A Parliamentary committee studying homosexuality challenged the law in 1957. They were both repealed by the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which partially decriminalized homosexual behaviour. Most famously, Oscar Wilde was convicted under section 11 and sentenced to two years' hard labour, and Alan Turing was convicted under it and sentenced to chemical castration.

One interesting sidenote: Urban legend has it that the logo of Apple computers is a tribute to Alan Turing, with the bite mark a reference to his method of suicide. The designer and company denies this.

On 8 June 1954, Turing's cleaner found him dead. He had died the previous day. A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was Cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered, an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide, it was speculated that this was the means by which a fatal dose was consumed. An inquest determined that he had committed suicide, and he was cremated at Woking Crematorium on 12 June 1954. Turing's ashes were scattered there, just as his father's had been.

Alan Turing lived in an era when homosexuality was still both illegal and officially considered a mental illness. Subsequent to his being outed, he was criminally prosecuted, which essentially ended his career. From 1951 Turing had been working on what is now known as artificial life. He wrote “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis,” which described some of his research on the development of pattern and form in living organisms, and he used the Ferranti Mark I computer to model chemical mechanisms by which genes could control the development of anatomical structure in plants and animals. In the midst of this groundbreaking work, Turing was discovered dead in his bed, poisoned by Cyanide !

In August 2009, a petition was started urging the British Government to posthumously apologise to Alan Turing for prosecuting him as a homosexual. The petition received thousands of signatures. Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged the petition, releasing a statement on 10 September 2009 apologising and describing the treatment of Turing as "appalling":

"Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him ... So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better.

In December 2011, an e-petition was created requesting the British Government pardon Alan Turing for his conviction of "gross-indecency":

We ask the HM Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing for the conviction of "gross indecency". In 1952, he was convicted of "gross indecency" with another man and was forced to undergo so-called "organo-therapy" – chemical castration. Two years later, he killed himself with cyanide, aged just 41. Alan Turing was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he'd done so much to save. This remains a shame on the UK government and UK history. A pardon can go to some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well-known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.

On 26 July 2012, a bill was introduced in the House of Lords to give a statutory pardon to Turing for offences under section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 of which he was convicted on 31 March 1952.

The tricky business of rewriting history
It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd—particularly poignant given his outstanding contributions. However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times. It is also to be remembered that Oscar Wilde was convicted for Homosexuality and the court sentence was to be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years. Wilde served his two years and then spent the last three years of his life in exile and died at the age of 45. As in the case of Alan Turning, the authorities should say a big sorry to the great writer Oscar Wilde also.
Compiled by: Davidson Karakkad || Email: datatorch@gmail.com. . || Source: wikipedia.org & other credible websites. || Please forward interesting life stories for including in this website.
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