02 June 2022

The Goldwater rule and its connection with the law

The Goldwater Rule is comprised on the Section 7 of the American Psychiatric Association's (APA)Principles of Medical Ethics. It states that psychiatrists have a responsibility to participate in activities that contribute to the improvement of their communities and public health, but they should not express any Professional opinions of public figures who have agreed to discuss their mental health in public statements. It was named after former U.S. senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater


Section 7 in question entered in force for the first time in 1973 APA’s Principles of Medical Ethics, and is still in effect:


A physician shall recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health. 


Furthermore, the Section 7.3 states: 


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.


The problem arose in 1964, year in which US Senator Barry Goldwater was a political candidate for the presidential election against Lyndon Johnson.  His mental health was questioned by many as prove the following statements: 


“I believe Goldwater to be suffering from a chronic psychosis”


“A megalomaniacal, grandiose omnipotence appears to pervade Mr. Goldwater’s personality giving further evidence of his denial and lack of recognition of his own feelings of insecurity and ineffectiveness”


“From his published statements I get the impression that Goldwater is basically a paranoid schizophrenic who decompensates from time to time”


“I believe Goldwater has the same pathological makeup as Hitler, Castro, Stalin, and other known schizophrenic leaders”


But the detonating was Fact magazine publishing the headline "The Conservative Unconscious: A Special Issue on the Thought of Barry Goldwater", alluding to U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater's bestselling book The Conscience of the Conservative Party. The magazine interviewed psychiatrists about Goldwater and his suitability for the presidency and wrote “1.189 psychiatrists say Goldwater is psychologically unfit to be president.


Barry Goldwater decided to sue the magazine editor Ralph Ginzburg and editor-in-chief Warren Boroson for defamation. The court sentenced that the evidence presented at the trial proved that the defendants made those defamatory statements consciously and that they were acting on actual malice. Plaintiffs sought $1 million in damages and punitive damages, but Sen. Goldwater was awarded $1 in damages and $75,000 in punitive damages, that today would amount to $554,000.


In addition to the successful trial, APA reacted with a letter to the magazine editors “should you decide to publish the results of a purported ‘survey’ of psychiatric opinion on the question you have posed, the Association will take all possible measures to disavow its validity”; and then put into practice the Goldwater rule “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”.


Considering the trendy trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, when psychiatric Dr Richard Shaw was called to the stand as Depp’s rebuttal witness, he brought on the Goldwater rule. As part of his testimony, he claimed that both Dr Spiegel and Dr Kipper who had previously testified in favour of Heard, had diagnosed Depp with substance addiction, narcissistic traits and behaviour patterns of intimate relationships partner violence (IPV), without having personally analysed the actor.

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