The Ethics of APA's Goldwater Rule

J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2016 Jun;44(2):226-35.


Section 7.3 of the code of ethics of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) cautions psychiatrists against making public statements about public figures whom they have not formally evaluated. The APA's concern is to safeguard the public perception of psychiatry as a scientific and credible profession. The ethic is that diagnostic terminology and theory should not be used for speculative or ad hominem attacks that promote the interests of the individual physician or for political and ideological causes. However, the Goldwater Rule presents conflicting problems. These include the right to speak one's conscience regarding concerns about the psychological stability of high office holders and competing considerations regarding one's role as a private citizen versus that as a professional figure. Furthermore, the APA's proscription on diagnosis without formal interview can be questioned, since third-party payers, expert witnesses in law cases, and historical psychobiographers make diagnoses without conducting formal interviews. Some third-party assessments are reckless, but do not negate legitimate reasons for providing thoughtful education to the public and voicing psychiatric concerns as acts of conscience. We conclude that the Goldwater Rule was an excessive organizational response to what was clearly an inflammatory and embarrassing moment for American psychiatry.

MeSH terms

  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Psychiatry / ethics*
  • Societies, Medical*
  • United States