Invitation to a Dialogue, to Mr. Alan Dershowitz
Dear Mr. Dershowitz:
Persuant to your complaint that I was an example of “too many Americans … refusing to engage in reasoned dialogue with people with whom they disagree,” I would like to invite you to a discussion at Yale, the very institution to which you made a complaint about my comments on your public comments. The topic I raised had to do with neither you nor I as an individual, but with a matter of grave importance to the security of this nation. I hope, therefore, that you will accept my invitation to a dialogue.
Unlike the conclusion you made in your article, there is nothing that I have desired as much as a serious dialogue since the very beginnings of my embarking on speaking about the issue of the president’s mental health in early 2017. It was the reason for my holding a conference on the ethics of speaking up in April 2017, inviting such luminaries of psychiatry as Drs. Robert Jay Lifton, Judith Herman, and James Gilligan. It was the reason I organized an interdisciplinary conference in Washington in March 2019, bringing together top experts of 13 different fields, including the law, to hear their perspectives on our concerns. And it is the reason I continue to speak up today, in an effort to educate the public, in accordance with my societal responsibility, as outlined in the code of ethics of my profession.
I would much rather our professional associations not fail in their leadership role, and the mainstream media not cower in covering a difficult topic, and take over this role. Since this has not happened, I have continued to speak up. Thousands of mental health experts, who have formed an alternative professional organization to the American Psychiatric Association around this issue, have appointed me president so as to speak on their behalf. They agree that we must be conscientious objectors who draw on our own moral agency to bring up a crucial topic, regardless of — or rather because of — its unpopularity with the current government. We believe it is critical for an informed and empowered public in a democracy, especially when the matter relates to its safety.
It was in the midst of these ongoing discussions over three years that you came up, not so much as an individual of interest as an extension of the president’s psychology, as we would expect from the duration and intensity of this presidency. “Shared psychosis” is a common observation in the context of a severely mentally impaired, especially influential, person going untreated. Mental symptoms are transmitted to close healthy contacts through continual exposure. This does not mean each and every affected person will have a primary illness; on the contrary, once the contact is removed, the healthy individuals typically return dramatically to normal.
I was not “diagnosing” you as a definitive case of shared psychosis, but rather hypothesizing that it was likely, given the circumstances. So far, evidence has not refuted that hypothesis, and it may do you well not to dismiss the possibility altogether. Of note, shared psychosis does not always have to entail “psychosis”, or the loss of ability to connect with reality. Under no circumstance have I said that the president was “psychotic”. Far from violating professional ethics, I believe I am upholding its highest principles. The purpose behind “the Goldwater rule” is that we “participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health.” The preamble to our code of ethics states that we “must recognize responsibility to patients … as well as to society.” Finally, and far more importantly, the universal Declaration of Geneva for all health professionals mandates that our practice serve humanity, especially in the face of a destructive government.
I assure you that this has nothing to do with legal or political opinion, as politics has no place in medicine, and I am of the belief that the condition of health leads to a life-affirming outcome, no matter one’s ideology. It is therefore false that I issued a diagnosis “for defending Constitutional rights,” as you state in your article, I hope you will come to understand.
I am therefore delighted that you are open to a dialogue regarding what we consider to be an urgent, important matter of national security, which is the president’s mental health. Had you reached out to me personally, I would have more than welcomed the opportunity to have a dialogue with you. Since you have not, I hope that you will at least accept my formal and cordial invitation.
Bandy X. Lee, M.D., M.Div.