Ethical Vignettes

Topics: Anne Sexton, Confidentiality, Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California Pages: 7 (2404 words) Published: November 14, 2012
Confidentiality after death: Please read the case examples and answer the following questions.

Example 1: After the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman (see: Hunt, 1999) Susan J. Forward, a clinical social worker who had held two sessions with Ms. Simpson in 1992, made unsolicited disclosures regarding her deceased former client. Ms. Forward commented in public that Ms. Simpson had allegedly reported experiencing abuse at the hands of O. J. Simpson. The California Board of Behavioral Science Examiners subsequently barred Ms. Forward from seeing patients for 90 days and placed her on three years’ probation. In announcing the decision Deputy Attorney General, Anne L. Mendoza, who represented the board commented, "Therapy is based on privacy and secrecy, and a breach of confidentiality destroys the therapeutic relationship" (Associated Press, 1995). Ms. Mendoza also noted that Ms. Forward, had falsely represented herself as a psychologist in television interviews. Ms. Forward later asserted that she had not violated patient confidentiality because the patient was dead, but had agreed not to appeal the board's decision in order to avoid a costly legal fight. Example 2: Author Diane Middlebrook set out to write a biography of thendeceased Pulitzer Prize winning poet Anne Sexton with the permission of Sexton’s family (Middlebrook, 1991). Martin Orne, M.D., Ph.D. served as Sexton’s psychotherapist for the last years of her life. At Sexton’s request, Dr. Orne had tape recorded the sessions so that Sexton, who had a history of alcohol abuse and memory problems, could listen to them as she wished. Dr. Orne had not destroyed the tapes and Ms. Middlebrook sought access to them to assist in her writing. Linda Gray Sexton, the poet’s daughter and executrix of her literary estate, granted permission, and Dr. Orne released the tapes as requested. Dr. Orne's release of the audiotapes caused considerable debate within the profession, despite authorized release (Burke, 1995; Chodoff, 1992; Goldstein, 1992; Joseph, 1992; Rosenbaum, 1994). Unlike the Simpson and Foster cases, the Sexton case involved approval of release of the audio records by a family member with full legal authority to grant permission. Dr. Orne was not sanctioned in any way for the release of the tapes.


1. Please explain which ethical codes are relevant to the preceding cases. Be specific.

B.1.b. Respect for Privacy

Counselors respect client rights to privacy. Counselors solicit private information from clients only when it is beneficial to the counseling process. Ms. Forward violated Nicole Simpson’s privacy by divulging her private information to others. Nicole Simpson was deceased; therefore it was not beneficial to the counseling process. In this same way, Dr. Orne was in violation.

B.3.c. Confidential Settings

Counselors discuss confidential information only in settings in which they can reasonably ensure client privacy. Ms. Forward violated this by divulging information to the public and the press. I believe that Dr. Orne was in violation by granting access to an author who would publicly display confidential information about his client.

B.3.f. Deceased Clients

Counselors protect the confidentiality of deceased clients, consistent with legal requirements and agency or setting policies. Ms. Forward was again in violation of this code because there was no legal requirement for her to divulge Nicole Simpson’s information. I believe that Dr. Orne was in violation in the same way because he was under no obligation to grant access to his client’s confidential information.

2. Do you agree with the outcomes of the preceding cases? Why or why not?

I agree with the outcome in the Simpson case. I believe it was right that Mrs. Forward be barred and put on probation. The code of ethics clearly disallows such disclosure. Information revealed by the client in the process of therapy should be confidential. Neither the fact...
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