Sunday, January 14, 2018

Is Trump Mentally Unfit for Office? The Goldwater Rule Violated

Many of my readers do not know who Barry Goldwater was, let alone of the Goldwater rule established by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973.  The rule advises against psychiatrists commenting on the mental health of public figures they have not examined.   Obviously, a psychiatrist or any physician who has treated a public figure is prohibited to offer any public comment unless he has been authorized by the patient to do so.  On Tuesday, Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president’s personal physician, will discuss the results of the president’s recent medical examination with the press.  The boundaries of what Dr. Jackson can report will have been set in advance by the president.  


Senator Barry Goldwater

In the past month, the Goldwater Rule has appeared in our newspapers and all over cable news and commentary programs.  Goldwater has probably been a 'trending topic'.  This is in response to suggestions that the president may be mentally unfit for office.  I have heard physicians who have never examined the president making this claim.  And, seemingly beyond the reach of the Goldwater Rule, I have heard pundits and politicians – presumably with no medical training – suggesting or asserting that the president is non compos mentis. 

It is beyond obvious that many of these ‘mental health experts’ are simply using a new tool to attack a president whom they oppose politically or despise personally.  I oppose this practice both as a physician and as a citizen.  We cannot normalize average citizens or medical professionals on the sidelines offering psychiatric assessments of folks they don’t really know.  If this objectionable process were to become accepted, then it would be ultimately applied throughout society.  There would be an inexorable mission creep that would make all of us potential targets of these inquisitions.   If a boss at work, a teacher, an athlete or a customer started arguing, might this individual be labeled by onlookers as having a condition?

This practice disrespects those among us who truly have mental illnesses.  It furthers the societal stigma associated with these diseases that we have all worked hard to reverse.
 
There may be instances when it seems inescapable that a person is psychiatrically afflicted.  For example, folks who claim they are Napoleon, came from another planet or wrap their heads in tin foil likely have some psychiatric dysfunction.  But we don’t make policy based on rare anecdotes.

Mental illness is serious business.  Mental health professionals train for years and throughout their careers to gain and maintain necessary skills for diagnosing and treating these illnesses.  Leave it to the professionals. 

Political adversaries, columnists, cable news jockeys and average citizens have enough fodder to criticize the president without shooting arrows from psychiatric quivers.  

The wisdom of keeping silent is aged and timeless.

Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamaity.
Proverbs 21:23.

   

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Al Franken Fed to the Wolves

Al Franken is out.  He volunteered to be thrown off a cliff.  Now, this gives me one less liberal, or ‘progressive’, that will give this gastroenterologist heartburn.  However, as a man who does his best to use honest weights and measures, I find his ouster to be deeply troubling.  This was not the senate’s finest hour.

What caused the stampede of his fellow Democrats last month to demand his ouster?  Yes, there were new allegations, but they didn’t seem to be qualitatively different from the prior ones. What pushed a largely silent Democratic caucus into a chorus of indignation?  Was this fair?


'Mmmm, that was tasty!'


If the charges against him – which he largely denies – are true, then he was clearly a sophomoric boor, who behaved improperly during his prior career as an irreverent comedian.  While his prior actions were offensive and wrong, I don’t think he merits being swept into the expanding cesspool of sexual harassers – men who preyed upon women using their positions of power to commit repugnant actions.  Such men deserve appropriate punishment and public opprobrium.

While I fully support the current movement to achieve a true reckoning, I am concerned about the lack of uniform standards and fairness.   With Franken, for example, there was a rush to judgment as a mob of Democrats tripped over each other as they raced for the microphones to denounce him. 

I am sure that when I hung out with the guys in college that I was present and participated in conversations that if publicized now would not show me to be the enlightened individual that I claim to be today. Am I unfit to serve as physician today?  Dredging up gutter talk and boorish behavior in a past life shouldn’t disqualify a person from his job or his place in society. 

I worry that Franken’s political demise has lowered the standard for tolerable behavior to an extent that legislators’ positions and everyone’s jobs are vulnerable for minor offenses that are alleged to have occurred either on the job or previously.  Could a senator now be brought down by a few lurid accusations that may be unproven or might even originate with the political opposition?   

For those who somehow don’t know where the boundaries of decency lie, we need uniform standards in place.  All offenses are not equal and should not be treated as such.  While we properly target sexual harassment for extinction, we should remain true to our cherished principles of a presumption of innocence and due process.  If you were charged with committing disgraceful acts, and you were innocent, wouldn’t you want a fair opportunity to defend yourself? 


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