Bioethics News

Should doctors talk about Trump’s mental health?

During the 2016 US Presidential Campaign, BioEdge reported on the ethics of the psychological profiling of candidates.

With what has been labelled the “bombastic” and “erratic” behaviour of President Trump, commentators are once again questioning whether psychiatrists and psychologists should share their opinions on political figures.

Writing in the BMJ Blog this week, Oxford health science professor Trish Greenhalgh said that it is permissible for doctors to publically suggest that a politician seek clinical help.   

“there is no absolute bar to a doctor suggesting that in his or her clinical opinion, it would be in the public interest for a particular public figure to undergo “occupational health” checks to assess their fitness to hold a particular office.”

Dr. Greenhalgh did not, however, comment on Mr. Trump’s mental state.

Dr. Allen Frances, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University who oversaw the creation of a previous edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is sceptical of the attempts to diagnose Trump.

“Trump doesn’t meet DSM criteria [for any disorder]…I wrote the criteria and should know how they are meant to be applied: Personality disorder requires the presence of clinically significant distress and/or impairment. The armchair, amateur diagnosticians seem either to be unaware of this requirement, or carelessly choose to ignore it.”

Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics states that: “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.”

In late November Harvard Professor of Psychiatry Judith Herman wrote to president Obama requesting that Trump receive a “full medical and neuropsychiatric evaluation.” Her letter was subsequently published in full in the Huffington Post.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.