Friday, June 11, 2004

So Much For "Social Responsibility"

It wasn't okay when their side did it, and it's not okay for our side to do it.
"Bush on the Couch," authored by a longtime Washington psychiatrist who has never met or treated the president, offers "an exploration of Bush's psyche" that delves into such touchy topics as his baby sister's death, his relationship with his mother and father and his drinking history.

In the book, to be released Tuesday, Justin A. Frank, a clinical professor at George Washington University Medical Center, claims President Bush exhibits "sadistic tendencies" and suffers from "character pathology," including "grandiosity" and "megalomania" -- viewing himself, America and God as interchangeable. Frank told us yesterday that his opinions are based on publicly available materials, adding, "I've never met the president or any members of his family."
This kind of garbage is forbidden by the ethics code of my own profession. It took about ten minutes with Google to determine that it also violates the ethical code of psychiatrists:
On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, 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.
You don't diagnose a patient you haven't examined. You don't discuss your diagnoses without the patient's permission. And if your only defense against the latter rule is that the person you've publicly diagnosed isn't really your patient, that alone ought to let you know that you've strayed far from the requirements of professional ethics. A psychiatric diagnosis is a clinical tool, not a rhetorical device; to treat it otherwise substantially undermines the reputation of psychiatry and psychology. Frank is a former leader of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, but there is simply nothing socially responsible about using psychiatric terminology as a stick with which to beat your political enemies. There's nothing socially responsible about misusing the mantle of the professional expert. I am appalled.