COMMENTARY

It's Ethically Wrong to Diagnose Clinton and Trump From Afar

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD

Disclosures

August 29, 2016

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Hi. I'm Art Caplan from the NYU Langone Medical Center's Division of Medical Ethics. We're in the political season, and it has become very popular for doctors, psychologists, and others to diagnose the candidates running for president. Donald Trump has been made the object of all sorts of psychiatric, psychological, and psychoanalytical diagnoses. Hillary Clinton has also been subject to analyses of her stamina, her neurologic conditions, and whether her balance is proper. I think all of this is ethically despicable.

No one should be diagnosing anyone that they haven't examined. It isn't right to do it for presidential candidates, and it's not right to do it for anybody else. You're basically speculating about information that you don't have—information that is incomplete. You don't know the patient's history. You haven't tested them. You haven't talked to them. You don't have any relationship with them over time. You're just looking at instances of how they behave or what you see on news clips and other places.

It is just wrong to ever diagnose someone from a distance. Part of the problem with doing that is that you are trying to pretend that you can impute information or make assessments that really aren't there. We don't want to turn medicine into some version of psychic phenomena where you can tell how ill or healthy somebody is without actually seeing them.

Before anybody gets mad and says, "Hey, didn't Art tell us before about telemedicine and its glories?" Sure—that's just a different way of examining the patient. I'm not saying that you can't do it via the Internet or on camera and get information about somebody even though you're not in the same space. But that's not what's going on with this rush by some to pronounce people sick, or ill, or mentally ill, or neurologically harmed from a distance.

If you want to diagnose somebody, stick to the people you see in your office. Stick to those who you can examine even if it is remotely, but don't do it on the basis of behavior that is intermittent and incomplete. Medicine is diminished—and the authority of medicine is compromised—when people start to shoot off-the-cuff medical diagnoses. If you don't like a political candidate, then go after their politics; don't go after their health.

I'm Art Caplan at the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU Langone Medical Center. Thanks for watching.

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