Jennifer L. Piel and Rejoice Opara
AMA Journal of Ethics. January 2018, Volume 20, Number 1: 10-18.
A recent Washington State case revisits the obligation of mental health clinicians to protect third parties from the violent acts of their patients. Although the case of Volk v DeMeerleer raises multiple legal, ethical, and policy issues, this article will focus on a potential ethical conflict between the case law and professional guidelines, namely the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics.
Here is a portion of the conclusion:
The Volk case established legal precedent for outpatient mental health clinicians in Washington State. Future cases against clinicians for their patients’ harm to third parties (e.g., medical negligence, wrongful death) will be tried under the Volk standard. It will be up to the trier of fact to determine whether the victims of a patient’s violence were foreseeable and, if so, whether the clinician acted reasonably to protect them.
Without changes to this law, there is increased likelihood that future clinicians and employers in similar situations, fearful of being in Dr. Ashby’s position, will more willingly (and likely unhelpfully) breach patient confidentiality. This creates a dilemma for clinicians in Washington State, who could find themselves caught between trying to meet the requirements of the legal case and also adhering to their professional ethical guidelines.
The article is here.