In the wake of denunciation from fellow psychiatrists and death threats from supporters of President Donald Trump, Bandy Lee MED ’94 DIV ’95 met with lawmakers again last week to discuss the president’s mental stability, despite colleagues’ claims that she is breaking psychiatric ethical code.
Lee made national headlines in January after she briefed congressmen on Trump’s mental state, arguing that the president is a danger to society. Last Wednesday, Lee met with around 45 Democrats at the Washington, D.C. home of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, marking her second such gathering with lawmakers. Since the news broke of the meeting, Lee told the News, she has received death threats at a level that makes her fear “mob violence.” According to Lee, the offices of DeLauro and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-MD were flooded with threats, leading to the cancellation of a scheduled town hall with Raskin.
Last March, the American Psychiatric Association expanded the Goldwater Rule — an APA guideline that states that it is unethical for a psychiatrist to make a public statement about someone’s mental state without the individual’s consent or an in-person consultation — from just making a diagnosis to offering any psychiatric opinion about a person. But Lee argued that she is not breaking the rule because she is not formally diagnosing the president. She also suggested the APA might have expanded the rule to protect mental health professionals from the ire of Trump supporters.
“The question then arises, did the American Psychiatric Association expand the Goldwater rule to turn it into an unprecedented gag rule as it has, two months into this administration, in order to protect the safety of professionals?” she said. “To this I would answer, the longer we wait, the more dangerous it will become.”
In Lee’s view, mental health professionals have been reluctant to speak up so as not to provoke the president or his supporters. Additionally, Lee questioned whether Republican lawmakers are unable to speak up because they fear their own constituents, saying one Republican lawmaker canceled a scheduled meeting shortly before her arrival in the wake of extensive media coverage.
Lee, who first met with around a dozen congressmen on Dec. 5 and 6, is the editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” — a New York Times bestselling book that describes the president’s alleged mental disorders based on assessments from 27 psychiatrists and psychologists. She is a faculty member at the Yale School of Medicine’s Law and Psychiatry Division and specializes in global health and violence.
The news of her meeting, first reported by Politico, arrived just as lingering questions about Trump’s mental state resurfaced following a series of tweets by the President gloating about the size of his nuclear button. But in the following days, the APA reiterated its commitment to the Goldwater Rule, calling on its members to end their “armchair” psychiatry. In a Jan. 9 statement, the APA stressed that if the physician conducting Trump’s physical examination found signs of mental unfitness, he or she would act accordingly.
On Friday, White House physicians said Trump was in “excellent health” after administering a physical examination, the president’s first since he took office.
“Using psychiatry for political or self-aggrandizing purposes is stigmatizing for our patients and negatively impacts our profession,” the APA statement read.
But Lee has consistently argued that she has a duty to warn, which is greater than her obligation for political neutrality as a psychiatrist. She told the News she is not normally political but that by speaking out, she has the potential to prevent violence and the “potential extinction of our species.”
In a public statement, the Executive Committee of the Department of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine reaffirmed the school’s commitment to refrain from issuing statements about the mental and emotional state of public officials. The statement further emphasized that Lee’s statements were not representative of the department, School of Medicine or the University.
“The Department affirms the importance of the ethical standard of conducting an examination of an individual and obtaining proper authorization before publicly stating a professional opinion about that individual,” the statement read.
Allen Frances, former chairman and professor emeritus of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University said that although Lee seemed to be a “well-meaning, patriotic person,” Yale’s psychiatry department was right to disown Lee’s “inappropriate” behavior.
According to Frances, Lee’s argument that her “duty to warn” preempts all other ethical responsibilities is not a legitimate reason for violating the Goldwater Rule, since the dangers posed by Trump are apparent to “everyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel.” But Frances said the “amateur” psychiatric diagnoses made in Lee’s book, which Frances labeled “psychobabble,” are severely stigmatizing to mentally ill people, confusing Trump’s bad behavior with their psychiatric suffering.
“Mentally ill people are almost universally well-meaning, well-behaved, and decent, and Trump is none of these,” Frances said. “Everyone should do everything they can to call Trump out as a dangerous figure, but I don’t think that should be done on the backs of the mentally ill.”
Age 70 at the time of his inauguration, Trump is the oldest U.S. president ever elected to a first term in office.
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