In 1964, FACT magazine published a survey of over 1,000 psychiatrists who claimed Senator Barry Goldwater was mentally unfit to serve as President. The Senator lost the election and then sued the magazine. The issue? None of the psychiatrists had personally evaluated the candidate.
The court ruled that the magazine had no right to publish such a claim. In response, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) created what came to be known as ‘The Goldwater Rule.’
What is ‘The Goldwater Rule?’
In 1973, the APA announced their support for the court ruling in their “Principles of Medical Ethics.” The rule in Section 7, Part 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.
It is unethical for a psychiatrist to discuss the mental health of a public figure without personally examining the patient. Additionally, they must have the patient’s consent before releasing that information.
During the 2016 Presidential election, this rule came into question yet again. In agreement with their psychiatric counterparts, the American Psychological Association reiterated their support for the rule.
When providing opinions of psychological characteristics, psychologists must conduct an examination “adequate to support statements or conclusions.” In other words, our ethical code states that psychologists should not offer a diagnosis in the media of a living public figure they have not examined.
Why it matters today
When news organizations make this claim they have no facts to back it up, it’s nothing more than their uneducated opinions.
Doctors, however, cannot ethically make that claim without personally examining him. It’s not illegal, but the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association state these are not valid diagnoses.
If there are legitimate claims on President Trump’s mental health, there is a process for dealing with that. The 25th amendment. This process would require his aides calling his mental health into question. Once the Senate President pro tempore and Speaker of the House are notified, the Vice President immediately takes control. If the President does not agree, the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet have 4 days to officially declare he is unfit for office. Congress must then hear the arguments regarding the president’s mental fitness within 21 days.
If the Congress… determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
The mainstream media has no factual claim or any medical proof that President Trump is unable to serve. They are simply trying to delegitimize his Presidency to the American citizens.
This is unfair to President Trump and his supporters. It’s unethical to discuss his mental health as fact, especially while pretending to be unbiased. The media may not like it, but the Goldwater Rule is important, fair, and it’s here to stay.