In 1969, a student at UC Berkeley, Proseniit Poddar, sought out a university psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Moore. Poddar had began stalking a girl named Tatiana Tarasoff, shortly after she wanted to just be friends with him, somewhat rejecting him romantically. After several sessions, Poddar threatened to kill Tarasoff.. After hearing this, Dr. Moore discussed the case with the police stating that Poddar was unstable and potentially very dangerous, and wanted him committed to a facility. The police took him into custody, but shortly released him stating that he appeared completely secure and stated he would not go near Tarasoff.
At this point, Moore was told to take no further action. On October 27th, Tarasoff returned from her trip and Poddar stabbed her death. He then called the police and turned himself in. This tragedy caused her parents to sue the university on the basis that Dr. Moore should have warned them. The result from the case created what is known as the duty to warn the third party. Later on, this was changed and no longer was there a duty to warn but now a duty to protect the third party. Confidentiality is a legal protection and assurance of ones right to privacy to a high extent.
This concept is concerned with a matter of keeping secrets due to the fact that harm will follow if the knowledge is revealed. On the other hand, there are exceptions to confidentiality that are required by law which are: exceptions commanded by statutory law, exceptions arising from legal precedent, exceptions arising from a peculiar patient-provider relationship, and exceptions due to a proportionate reason. In addition, psychotherapy, counseling, and similar services that are related to diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment are confidential and protected by state law.
Regardless of the fact that state laws vary and are not always made completely clear, most courts will hold the psychiatrist responsible if they do not take the steps to protect both third parties and also the patient. In the 1969 Tarasoff Case, the issue of confidentiality was the predominant cause of the ultimate tragedy. At that time, there was no law that gave the psychiatrist the right to warn or protect the third party, therefore Dr. Moore made the best decision by somewhat breaking confidentiality and telling the police.
She was alarmed to hear Poddar’s plan to kill Tatiana and felt that by providing the police with written and verbal evidence, they would take her suggestion and get Poddar the psychological help he needed. Moore wrote several letters to the campus police stating how dangerous and unstable Poddar was in addition to his depression over Tantiana, requesting that they get him the suggested help. Due to their daughter’s death, the Tarasoff parents sued the university police and the Regents of the University of California Berkley for failing to warn them that she was in danger.
The case was dismissed due to the fact that before this Tarasoff case, the doctor had only a duty to their patient not to the third party.. If Dr. Moore had contacted the Tarasoff’s, he would have been breaking the law at that time. Moore was respecting the law by trying to protect his patient by having him admitted into psychiatric facility, which would also indirectly protect Tantiana. Instead, the police did not pay enough attention to Dr. Moore’s warning and should have assumed all responsibility for not doing their job thoroughly.
If the police would have listened to the doctor and got the help for Poddar that he immensely needed then there probably would have been a completely different outcome. The Tarasoff family continued to fight for justice for Tantiana, but at first it seemed like nothing was going to be accomplished. Within the first legal battle, the Tarasoff’s were dismissed, but kept faith and an appeal was taken by the California Supreme Court and then came the reversal of the earlier made decision.
The Tarasoff I decision was constituted, which said that a therapist must give threatened persons warnings in order to escape the potential danger of their patient. Because of this court decision, they would redo the entire case against the police and university, which would become known as the Tarasoff II case, but was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money and never went to trial. Poddar served four years for manslaughter then returned to India, where he was supposively happily married.
Confidentiality is a serious matter and should not be broken unless a patient falls under the exceptions and Poddar certainly did. Dr. Moore did not make the situation public or draw attention to himself or Poddar; he took the matter up with the police, who should have evaluated him more thoroughly. Also, Moore continued to send letters to the university police to warn them of the things he heard and he truly felt Poddar and Tarasoff were in some danger, and it turned out to the accurate.
Moore should not be blamed because he did everything he could to help stop the situation, but due to confidentiality and other laws there was only so much he could do. Informing the police should have been considered an exception because Poddar said the words “I am going to kill her”; therefore under the law his actions would constitute an exception by statutory law. Also, during that time period, there really was not specific laws like there are today, which meant doctors had to sort of decide on their own to make the decision he felt was right at that exact moment in time.
As well, being in the medical profession, the decision should try to benefit for the good and help others and that is exactly what Moore was trying to do, he was trying to prevent a murder from occurring but warning the police. Furthermore, during that time period the law was only to protect ones patient and proclaimed nothing about the third party or parties involved, the doctor did all he could by trying to help get his patient the psychiatric help he needed. In fact, if Dr.
Moore would have succeeded and the police would have done what he proclaimed to be true, then the outcome of the situation would be completely different. Poddar would have spent some time in a facility that would diagnose his problem and help him get through it the way he should, rather than allow his depression, anger, and jealousy towards Tantiana continuously increase. If the police would have allowed this to happen instead of saying he was better and that he promised to stay away from her, then the outcome would be completely different and Tantiana would most likely have never been murdered.