It the wake of the Trump administration’s distressing first month, there are some mental health experts who believe that there is now too much at stake for them to abide by the “Goldwater Rule” and remain silent about his allegedly unstable behavior.
Psychiatrists have a standard of conduct known as the Goldwater Rule, which restricts them from applying their skills as psychiatrists by evaluating the mental health of people whom they haven’t examined personally as patients, but they have disclosed information about themselves in the media. And even though the American Psychiatric Association had warned its members to stay away from debates concerning President Trump’s mental health, some prominent mental health professionals are beginning to publicly question this rule, and they are debating whether or not such a rule is ethical when there is so much at stake.
The Goldwater Rule isn’t a law that could land these professionals in prison. It’s a code of ethics for psychiatrists and psychologists. According to this rule, mental health professionals need the authorization of the examined public person to share their opinion on them.
The President of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Maria Oquendo, had reminded the members of the association to abide by the Goldwater Rule amid speculation that they could be tempted to evaluate the mental health of the President and share their opinion with the public.
Dr. Oquendo wrote the following on the APA website.
“The unique atmosphere of the year’s election cycle may lead some to want to psychologize the candidates, but to do so would not only be unethical, it would be irresponsible.
And while many debated if this 40-year-old rule needed revision, the APA decided to stand by it. But last week, 35 leading mental health experts signed a letter of dissent to the New York Times. The letter gives a warning that owing to the “grave emotional instability” demonstrated by his actions and demeanor, President Trump is “incapable of serving safely as president.”
Regarding the Goldwater Rule that prohibits them from making such an analysis or statement, the letter stated, “We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer.”
The origin of the Goldwater Rule came from a 1964 incident when a group of psychiatrists had answered a survey about the mental health of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. The result of the survey was published in an article in the now-defunct magazine, Fact, and a majority of the 2,417 psychiatrists who participated in the survey had deemed Barry Goldwater as “psychologically unfit” to be president.
After Goldwater lost the election, he sued the magazine and won. The editors went all the way to the Supreme Court to try and reverse the decision, but their appeal was unsuccessful, with Justice Hugo Black writing, “The public has an unqualified right to have the character and fitness of anyone who aspires to the Presidency held up for the closest scrutiny.” For the meaning of “closest scrutiny” to be fulfilled, the person has to be evaluated on a personal level and not just based on the way he or she appears on TV, radio, or in his or her writings.
The American Psychiatry Association called the whole incident a “very public ethical misstep,” and in 1973, they decided to add the “Goldwater Rule” to the code of ethics.
The rule reads as follows.
“On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”
[Featured Image by Pool/Getty Images]