Thursday, March 1, 2012

Why Just Homicide and Suicide?

In the film Sybil psychiatrist Wilbur actually travels to her patient's home and rescues her from imminent suicide. The case of Tatiana Tarasoff led to a "duty to protect" on the part of treating professionals. These expectations play a key role in malpractice cases with plaintiffs invoking a theory base on the legal concepts of proximate cause and duty.

But why limit such expectations to suicide and homicide. Why not hold treaters responsible when sex offenders re-offend or when alcoholics relapse? What about a manic's spending sprees or sexual indiscretion? How far should we go in holding one person responsible for the conduct of another? Is there any doubt that a plaintiff can find an expert witness who will testify that if only the professional had provided better treatment or "admitted the patient to the hospital" she would not have spent all that money on the shopping channel.

You may argue that the courts hold treaters responsible only for providing treatment that fails to meet standard of care, usually defined as "reasonable and prudent," but in the end most professionals will focus their efforts on preventing the bad outcome.

No one should ever be held responsible for the acts of another. Such policy may feel good for the presumed victims, but it gives treaters a strong incentive to avoid accepting risky cases, thus depriving many of needed treatment, or at least raising the cost of that treatment.


  1. I agree. It is very hard to find a doctor willing to take the case of someone who is chronically suicidal or, if they do, one who is willing to allow the patient to be honest without hospitalizing them every visit. Or even a doctor who is open/honest about the fact that they have called the cops to take you in. I have chronic suicidal thoughts and after ten years of docs I had to just lie to all the time I finally found one that I can tell who won't send me in and trusts me, gives me the opportunity to take care of myself. I'm so grateful. I have specifically told my family and friends if I ever do harm myself or someone else DO NOT go after my doctors. I can't control their actions, but my actions are not his fault.

  2. Very interesting points you make about the treating therapists' responsibility. The truth of the matter is where do you draw the line; and what about bringing in "everyone" not only the treat? For example, family members, doctors, the lady at the dry cleaners..IDK how far is the responsibility...

  3. in the field: The problem is that family members, et al are not considered to have a "duty" to the patient.

    Michelle: I admire your attitude. Wish there were more like you, and I don't mean just patients!