ARLINGTON, Va. March 16, 2017 — The American Psychiatric Association (APA) today reaffirmed its support behind the ethics guideline commonly known as “The Goldwater Rule,” which asserts that member psychiatrists should not give professional opinions about the mental state of someone they have not personally evaluated.
The APA’s Ethics Committee issued an opinion that clarifies the ethical principle and answers questions that have been posed recently.
Since 1973, the American Psychiatric Association and its members have abided by a principle commonly known as “the Goldwater Rule.” The ethics principle is so named because of its association with an incident that took place during the 1964 presidential election. (See APA Blog on Goldwater Rule.) During that election, Fact magazine published a survey in which it queried some 12,356 psychiatrists on whether candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP nominee, was psychologically fit to be president. A total of 2,417 of those queried responded, with 1,189 saying that Goldwater was unfit to assume the presidency. Goldwater would later sue the magazine, which was found liable for damages.
“It was unethical and irresponsible back in 1964 to offer professional opinions on people who were not properly evaluated and it is unethical and irresponsible today,” said APA President Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Ph.D. “In the past year, we have received numerous inquiries from member psychiatrists, the press and the public about the Goldwater Rule. We decided to clarify the ethical underpinnings of the principle and answer some of the common questions raised by our members. APA continues to support these ethical principles.”
In reaffirming the existing policy, the Ethics Committee explained the rationale behind the rule. For example, offering a professional opinion or a diagnosis of someone they have not thoroughly examined compromises the integrity of the doctor and the profession and it has the potential to stigmatize those with mental illness. Furthermore, when a physician publicly gives a professional opinion on a public figure without consent, it violates the principle that a psychiatric evaluation must occur with consent or authorization.
The American Psychiatric Association is a national medical specialty society whose 37,000 physician members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses, including substance use disorders.