The Ethical Soundness of the Goldwater Rule
In 1964, Fact magazine sent a survey to American psychiatrists asking them to comment on Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater's mental health status. Respondents described Goldwater in very negative terms using the common psychiatric jargon of the time. The American Psychiatric Association realized that this affair damaged the professional integrity of psychiatry and, as a result, in 1973 issued the so-called “Goldwater rule.” Under this rule, psychiatrists are not allowed to comment on the mental health of public figures without a direct interview and without their permission. In 2016, as a result of Donald Trump's rise to power, there has been some public pressure to overcome the Goldwater rule. This article acknowledges that times have changed and that debates about rescinding the Goldwater rule are welcome; however, it also defends the view that the Goldwater rule preserves considerable ethical soundness. This conclusion is reached by analyzing some of the main considerations in this debate: free speech, the “duty to warn,” the suitability of the direct interview, and the politicization of psychiatry.