Renowned psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton on the Goldwater Rule: We have a duty to warn if someone may be dangerous to others.
Bill Moyers: This book is a withering exploration of Donald Trump’s mental state. Aren’t you and the 26 other mental health experts who contribute to it in effect violating the Goldwater Rule? Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatrist Association’s code of ethics flatly says: ‘It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [on a public figure] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization’.
Are you putting your profession’s reputation at risk?
Robert Jay Lifton: I don’t think so.
I think the Goldwater Rule is a little ambiguous.
We adhere to that portion of the Goldwater Rule that says we don’t see ourselves as making a definitive diagnosis in a formal way and we don’t believe that should be done – except by hands-on interviewing and studying of a person.
But we take issue with the idea that therefore we can say nothing about Trump or any other public figure.
We have a perfect right to offer our opinion and that’s where ‘duty to warn’ comes in.
Moyers: Duty to warn?
Lifton: We have a duty to warn on an individual basis if we are treating someone who may be dangerous to herself or to others — a duty to warn people who are in danger from that person.
We feel it’s our duty to warn the country about the danger of this president.
If we think we have learned something about Donald Trump and his psychology that is dangerous to the country – yes we have an obligation to say so.
We argue that Trump’s difficult relationship to reality and his inability to respond in an evenhanded way to a crisis renders him unfit to be president and we asked our elected representative to take steps to remove him from the presidency.