Bill Frist in Democratic dress

A psychiatrist, speaking as a psychiatrist, ought not to purport to diagnose people he hates as a means of attacking them politically.

“Narcissistic Personality Disorder” is probably as good a shorthand for what’s wrong with George W. Bush as any other. But it seems to me grossly unethical for a psychiatrist to use his professional credentials and professional jargon as a way of attacking a politician he hates.

First of all, it’s nonsense. Bill Frist made a fool of himself in the Schiavo case by diagnosing someone he hadn’t examined. No one who hasn’t examined George W. Bush ought to purport to express an expert opinion about his mental health. Second, a physician has a license to heal, not to harm. I doubt that having one’s mental illness discussed in public is therapeutic.

I’d like to see the American Psychiatric Association take a firm stance against this abuse, and I’d like to see medical boards take disciplinary action against those who so demean the physician’s role.

Update A reader points out an omission:

I couldn’t agree with your parallel to Frist more, but you failed to mention an even better one: Charles Krauthammer’s repeated abuse of his psychiatric credentials, eg labeling Al Gore “crazy” in the absence of any evaluation. If he clarified that that was a political rather than a psychiatric opinion, this language might be (borderline) acceptable, but as far as I know, he’s failed to do that. As a clinical psychologist and psychiatric nurse practitioner, I find this behavior offensive, and it should be grounds for action by the relevant medical boards, but it never is. (I’d be in a heap of trouble with the psychology board here in Washington state if I ever did anything like this, and that’s as it should be.)

Noted with thanks.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: