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Is the Goldwater Rule Out of Date? Doctors Weigh-In

One of the most infamous physician polls ever to be fielded ran when Senator Barry Goldwater was campaigning to be president in 1964. Due to his demeanor and political stances, his mental health quickly became a hot topic and a survey was distributed to over 12,000 psychiatrists asking them if they believed Goldwater was psychologically fit.1,189 responded that he was not fit, which was then used by major publications as justification to call Goldwater “emotionally unstable, “paranoid,” “dangerous lunatic,” and more. In response to this, the American Psychological Association created the Goldwater Rule – an ethical code, not a law, that prohibits psychiatrists from giving professional opinions about public figures without personally conducting an examination.

The United States again is faced with a politician whose demeanor and political stances have prompted questions about mental fitness. Many doctors are questioning the validity of the Goldwater Rule, and are finding it hard to uphold. Here are some of the comments on Sermo regarding this rule and its current application from recent weeks:

 “The spirit of the Goldwater Rule just says that you shouldn’t use your credentials to publicly smear someone by diagnosing them from afar with mental illness. There’s still plenty of leeway; you can get your point across in many ways without claiming to have made a professional diagnosis.” – Psychiatry

 “There is a difference between noting evident facts and aligning them with diagnostic criteria, and being pejorative.” – Radiology 

 “It is an insult to our patients who actively struggle with their illnesses to be compared to politicians who revel in their character pathologies.” – Psychiatry

 “It is unethical to make a pronouncement about somebody’s mental health without a proper confidential exam.” – Ophthalmology 

 “It is a rule that only affects APA members. Non-APA psychiatrists and non-psychiatrists are free to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of suffering an ethical investigation by the APA.” – Psychiatry

 “The way to deal with a politician you don’t like is vote against them next election. There are constitutional ways to remove them.” – Family Medicine

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