Of course not.
On the the sub-Reddit “AmITheAsshole” board, a father consulted the group as to whether it would be wrong for him to warn daughter’s fiancé-to-be that she’s been diagnosed as a clinical sociopath. She is attracted to her boyfriend, he said, she has told him in the past that she doesn’t feel love or empathy towards anyone, nor guilt or grief. Yup, that sounds like a sociopath, all right. A doctor diagnosed the daughter as suffering from antisocial personality disorder at age 18.
“She exhibited odd, disturbing behavior at a young age, and after a serious incident of abuse towards her younger sister, I realized she needed professional help,” Dad wrote. “Throughout her elementary years she struggled heavily, getting in lots of trouble in school for lying, cruelty, and all other types of misbehaviors. With an enormous amount of therapy and support, her bad behavior was minimized as she grew older.”
Her boyfriend has no idea, the father believes, what kind of person he will be marrying, and the father believes that he has a right to know, saying, “I really like and respect this young man, and would feel awful keeping this ‘secret’ from him, and letting him walk into a marriage without this piece of knowledge.”
Yet since her diagnosis, the daughter seems to have her behavior under control. She has a good job, successfully navigated through college and has many friends. She is also popular on the dating scene.
The Reddit participants seem to have been flummoxed by the father’s dilemma. I’m not. The ethical course is clear.
Shut the hell up. Telling the daughter’s boyfriend about her past and medical condition would be a flat-out betrayal of loyalty and trust. Such a revelation would be likely to scare the young man sick, and would probably destroy the relationship. One distinction between sociopaths and psychopaths is that the former can learn how others feel about right and wrong, and work to conform to social norms. They may not love, care, and feels the way most people do, but because they are smart, practical and often, like the daughter, charming, they can still be successful in their careers and personal relationships.
It sounds as if the daughter has been doing exactly that. Sociopaths have a right to be happy too, and many have long and productive marital relationships. Think of Bill Clinton. Jack Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson. Nixon. FDR. Sociopathy is a mental illness, so far incurable but manageable. Most Americans associate the condition with psychopaths, and serial killers. If sociopaths can “fake” their emotions sufficiently to have relatively healthy relationships, and many can, it would be unethical in multiple ways for the father to sabotage his daughter’s romance by warning her beau:
- It violates a confidence. This is a medical diagnosis that the father learned as a custodian for his child. It is her secret to keep, if that’s her choice.
- It is betrayal. The daughter, the father says, has always been candid and open with him about her condition. That is because she trusts him. For him to tell anyone else is a betrayal of the trust.
- This is not like warning someone that a daughter is a vampire or a cannibal. She isn’t dangerous. The father doesn’t know how the couple relates to each other; every relationship is different. Maybe he’s a sociopath too. Interjecting his fears into their relationship is unfair and irresponsible.
- Would he have wanted a third party, parent or not, to intervene in his relationship with the daughter’s mother, negatively characterizing his worse character traits? No, of course not. This would be a Golden Rule breach.
- It is also a Kantian non-no, unless he is proposing a universal standard that all parents have an ethical duty to make sure a child’s potential life partner knows the worst about them, because he or she has “right to know.”
- The betrayal can’t be justified on utilitarian grounds, either, because the harm done by the revelation is near certain, but the benefits are entirely speculative.
The father can discuss with his daughter what she plans on telling her presumed husband-to-be about her condition, and give his advice. In the end, however, it’s her choice, and her life.