Is “The Goldwater Rule” Necessary?

Barry Goldwater

From an  edict handed down last week by the head of the American Psychiatric Association:

“Since 1973, the American Psychiatric Association and its members have abided by a principle commonly known as “the Goldwater Rule,” which prohibits psychiatrists from offering opinions on someone they have not personally evaluated. The rule is so named because of its association with an incident that took place during the 1964 presidential election. During that election, Fact magazine published a survey in which they queried some 12,356 psychiatrists on whether candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP nominee, was psychologically fit to be president. A total of 2,417 of those queried responded, with 1,189 saying that Goldwater was unfit to assume the presidency.

While there was no formal policy in place at the time that survey was published, the ethical implications of the Goldwater survey, in which some responding doctors even issued specific diagnoses without ever having examined him personally, became immediately clear. This large, very public ethical misstep by a significant number of psychiatrists violated the spirit of the ethical code that we live by as physicians, and could very well have eroded public confidence in psychiatry… I can understand the desire to get inside the mind of a Presidential candidate. I can also understand how a patient might feel if they saw their doctor offering an uninformed medical opinion on someone they have never examined. A patient who sees that might lose confidence in their doctor, and would likely feel stigmatized by language painting a candidate with a mental disorder (real or perceived) as “unfit” or “unworthy” to assume the Presidency.

Simply put, breaking the Goldwater Rule is irresponsible, potentially stigmatizing, and definitely unethical.”

Naturally, as he is significantly responsible for much that is going haywire in the culture—CNN experts using words like “dick” on the air, a Fox News star and a Wall Street Journal editor calling each other names on Twitter, the New York Times announcing that it no longer is even pretending to follow its own ethics code—this can be partially placed at the feet of Donald Trump, though Ann Althouse’s suspicions that it is really designed to protect Hillary Clinton cannot be discarded.

I agree that professional groups that use their collective weight and credibility to assume greater influence in political matters than their biases and relevant expertise warrant are abusing their positions. I agree that psychiatrists pronouncing public officials mentally unfit for office without the same kind of examination that they would demand with a patient is a dubious practice, ripe for abuse. Still, I wonder if the situation with Trump doesn’t pose a different problem. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Day: Lori Palatnik

Is "ding-dong" wrong?

“In life we must know what is good and what is evil. Yes, we are commanded to remember that there is evil in the world, and not only are we allowed to celebrate when it is destroyed, we must.”

Mrs. Lori Palatnik, in an essay today entitled “Is It Proper To Celebrate Osama bin Laden’s Death?”

Writer David Sirotka at Salon, among others, has sharply criticized the jubilant reaction of most Americans to the terrorist’s death. He found the chanting crowds in front of the White House and Times Square disturbing, symbolizing a gleeful embrace of violence as the way to address problems, an instance of becoming the enemy in order to defeat it: Continue reading

Bill Clinton’s Unethical Fun at the Expense of Obama’s Presidency

With friends like Bill Clinton, President Obama hardly needs enemies.

In the middle of a crisis in his Presidency, with former supporters and allies joining critics in questioning his character, judgment, courage and leadership, Obama turned to a former president for counsel, just as many Chief Executives before him have done when the wolf was at the door. William Jefferson Clinton, however is nothing if not a hound for attention, and while Obama struggles with the mantle of leadership, Clinton is especially comfy in it. Thus when what was supposed to be a White House brief photo-op for the press gave Clinton a clear path to an open mike, he grabbed it, and promptly made look weaker than ever. As the Washington Post described the scene:

“After brief remarks by Obama, Clinton slid behind the lectern as if he’d never left the building. For a time it looked like he might never leave, as he fielded questions from a White House press corps eager to keep him as long as it could. He stroked his chin. He folded his arms and looked pensive. He gesticulated expansively. He was part professor and full politician enjoying the spotlight.

“After a few minutes, Obama seemed to conclude that he would be better served by being out of the picture than as a bystander. “I’ve been keeping the first lady waiting for about half an hour, so I’m going to take off,” he said. Clinton responded, “Well, I – I don’t want to make her mad. Please go.”

“And with that, Clinton had the stage to himself.”

He just couldn’t help himself. Continue reading

Summer Rerun: “Ending the Bi-Partisan Effort to Destroy Trust in America”

[TV is full of reruns these days, and sometimes I am grateful for them, for it gives me a chance to see episodes of favorite shows I had missed for some reason or another. Back in early March, I posted the following essay about the origins of America’s current crisis of trust in our government, and how it might be cured by our elected leaders. Since then, the crisis has deepened, and as I was doing some routine site maintenance, I reread the post. It is still very timely (unfortunately), and since far fewer people were visiting Ethics Alarms in March, I decided to re-post it today, with just a few minor edits. I promise not to make this a habit. Still, trust is the reason why ethics is so important in America: if there is a single post of the more than 700 I have written here since October 2009  that I would like people to read, this is it.] Continue reading

Essay: Ending the Bi-Partisan Effort to Destroy Trust in America

Both the Pentagon shooter and the Texas I.R.S. attacker were motivated by a virulent distrust of the U.S. government, the distrust mutating into desperation and violence with the assistance of personal problems and emotional instability. We would be foolish, however, to dismiss the two as mere “wingnuts,” the current term of choice to describe political extremists who have gone around the bend. They are a vivid warning of America’s future, for the media, partisan commentators, the two political parties and our elected officials are doing their worst to convert all of us into wingnuts, and the results could be even more disastrous than the fanciful horrors the Left and the Right tell us that the other has planned for us. Continue reading