In an unprecedented move, executives of American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) informed its 3,500 members through an email that they were permitted to defy what is known as the “Goldwater Rule” and can now comment on President Donald Trump’s mental state, STAT News reports.
The rule, which first appeared in the American Psychiatry Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics in 1973 and has been in effect since, declared it unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional psychiatric opinion on a public figure without a consensual in-person examination. The issue first emerged in 1964, when Fact Magazine published a piece where some polled psychiatrists declared that then-presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was mentally unfit to be president. Goldwater successfully sued for libel, and thus the “Goldwater Rule” was born.
The rule has been followed by psychiatrists and psychologists alike for decades. The APsaA’s July 6 email, however, marks a stark contrast to its previous position on examining public figures, which was sent on the basis of the “belief in the value of psychoanalytic knowledge in explaining human behavior,” past association president Dr. Prudence Gourguechon told STAT.
“We don’t want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly.” Dr. Gourguechon said that this responsibility has become more pressing today, “since Trump’s behavior is so different from anything we’ve seen before” in a president. This means that the APsaA’s psychiatrists now have the ability to declare the president “insane”, “paranoid”, or “schizophrenic” without being bound by the ethics rule.
Proponents of the Goldwater Rule have said that allowing professionals to comment on a person’s mental health without performing an official examination is intentionally misleading and unethical, and even the psychiatric association reestablished the importance of the rule as recently as March. Criticism of the rule has been mounting, however, as twitter users and media pundits alike have attempted to “diagnose” President Trump after analyzing his behavior. Harvard Medical School Psychiatrist Dr. Leonard Glass called the rule “an unacceptable infringement on [his] right and duty” to give an analysis on a person “where the perspective of psychiatrists could be very relevant and enlightening” in an article in the Psychiatric Times. Others have noted the double standard mental health doctors face–a cardiologist, for example, can comment on a president’s health if they were to have fainting episodes, STAT noted, as long as they were clear that they had not officially examined them.
Whatever opinion you have on the rule’s suspension, be prepared for a new flurry of professional opinions on the President’s mental health–in fact, the book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President”, is slated for publication in October.
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