Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Psychiatrists who offer public comments about public figures


Of course, it’s only natural for the media to seek comment from experts. But as a psychiatrist, I cringe at statements like these, for they cross an ethical line that goes back to a presidential campaign nearly half a century ago.

Just before the 1964 election, a muckraking magazine called Fact decided to survey members of the American Psychiatric Association for their professional assessment of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the Republican nominee against President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Ralph Ginzburg, the magazine’s notoriously provocative publisher, had heavily advertised the issue in advance, saying it would call Mr. Goldwater’s character into question.

A.P.A. members were asked whether they thought Mr. Goldwater was fit to be president and what their psychiatric impressions of him were. It was not American psychiatry’s finest hour. [...]

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