Although the death penalty is on the decline in the United States, the case of James Rhodes highlights the ethical quagmire facing forensic psychiatrists and psychologists whose evaluations contribute whether persons with intellectual disabilities convicted of murder will live or die.
In addition to the increasingly familiar racial biases and legal flaws in death penalty convictions and use of lethal injection, according to Celia B. Fisher, Ph.D. Director of Fordham University’s Centerfor Ethics Education, little attention has been paid to the lack of professional consensus surrounding the validity and reliability of IQ tests in general and for racial minorities in particular, disagreement over the use of absolute cut-off scores to determine intellectual disability, and the inherent fallibility of tests to determine the probability of future violence.
“Professional evaluations are not a panacea for inconsistent, uninformed and often racially biased jury decisions,” notes Fisher, “rather than providing a fair and neutral assessment of mental ability forensic assessments are contributing to inconsistencies that lethally violate the human rights of convicted criminals in capital cases.”
As the 2016 presidential election approaches, psychologists are gaining media attention by diagnosing candidates as having personality disorders, especially for the Republican nominee. But the public should question whether or not offering these diagnoses is professionally ethical or in the service of political agendas.
“Trained mental health practitioners serve the public good by providing diagnoses of individuals based on scientifically and professionally established assessment techniques,” notes Fisher, who chaired the committee that wrote the current American Psychological Association’s (APA) Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct, “however the public and the profession are harmed when psychologists provide opinions based on unsubstantiated information drawn from media reports or other subjective observations.”
There have been claims suggesting that psychologists who offer diagnoses of Donald Trump are doing so for the purpose of national and public interest. According to Fisher, who is the author of the widely read Decoding the Ethics Code: A Practical Guide for Psychologists, “Psychologists who claim that ‘Trumpism’ is a threat to democracy that provides moral justification to offer public diagnoses in the absence of established assessment techniques are deluding themselves into thinking that these unprofessional opinions benefit society.” Fisher further explains that psychologists are actually in “clear violation of the APA Ethics Code and are inadvertently contributing to a political climate based on opinion rather than fact.”
As consumers of the media, it is not uncommon to “diagnose” public figures with various mental disorders, depending on their representation in the press. But for psychologists and psychiatrists, is doing so unethical?
In an op-ed in The New York Times, Columbia University’s Dr. Robert Klitzman explained that for psychiatrists like himself, there is a prohibition from the American Psychiatric Association on providing professional opinions on individuals they have never met or evaluated before.
Troublingly, though, Klitzman mentions that “Psychologists (with Ph.D.s, as opposed to psychiatrists, with medical degrees) argue that this principle does not fully apply to them, and that offering diagnoses of public figures can be in the national interest.”
Pharmaceutical companies have once again used industry influence to conceal data and make false claims about a high-profile medication.
Today The New York Times reported that Johnson & Johnson and Bayer – the companies behind the anti-clotting drug Xarelto – are responsible for critical laboratory data being left out of a letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine discussing the safety of the medication. Lawyers representing patients suing the two major pharmaceutical companies claim that both corporations were complicit by remaining silent about the data concealed from the publication.
UPDATE: 2/29/16: An article published today in JAMA Internal Medicine found that Addyi — the so-called “female Viagra” — is even less effective than initially thought, resulting in only one-half of one additional satisfying sexual experience per month for the women taking the medication.
The drug has not been selling well since it received FDA approval in August 2015. As of early January 2016, only 240-290 prescription for Addyi were written each week, according to a recent report cited in The New York Times.The report estimates that sales are currently running at a rate of around $11 million per year, far lower than the projected $100 to $150 million in revenue for this year.
For additional discussion of Addyi, the drug’s efficacy, and the ethical implications, please continue reading below.
Following the Vatican’s release of Pope Francis’s first encyclical on Thursday, Fordham University Assistant Professor of Theology, Science and Ethics Christiana Z. Peppard, Ph.D., has been providing analysis and commentary on the much-awaited papal message on climate change.