DEAR ABBY: I have received many phone calls since the appearance of Carol A. Tauer's letter in your column. Her otherwise interesting and informative letter concerning the ethical implications of the Catholic Church's position on the seal of the confessional contained a couple of errors that I hope you will correct.
It is well known in the Bay Area professional community that I was the treating psychologist (not psychiatrist, as Ms. Tauer states) at Cowell Memorial Hospital on the University of California-Berkeley campus for the patient who murdered Tatina Tarasoff.
Ms. Tauer, an ethics teacher in a Catholic college, said in her letter, "On appeal, the California Supreme Court rejected the psychiatrist's argument supporting absolute confidentiality, saying that a psychiatrist had a duty to warn or protect an identifiable potential victim ..."
But Abby, I never argued for complete confidentiality. When the patient told me of his intention to kill Ms. Tarasoff, I immediately informed the local police (in this case, the University of California Campus Police Department) and wrote a legal letter of commitment (countersigned by the chief psychiatrist of our department) with the intent of hospitalizing my patient. This was exactly the procedure directed by law at that time (1969).
The campus police interviewed my patient and released him, stating that he was "harmless." I wrote a SECOND letter of commitment -- again to no avail -- and contacted the police several more times urging them to save Ms. Tarasoff. They refused to act, and the patient stabbed Ms. Tarasoff to death.
Ms. Tauer's letter implies that I sat back passively, allowing a brutal and unnecessary murder to occur. The truth is I fought vigorously (but unsuccessfully) to prevent this act. Probably, Ms. Tauer refers to a "friend of the court" brief offered by the American Psychiatric Association in which they (not I) argued for complete confidentiality. -- LAWRENCE EARLE MOORE, PH.D., SAN FRANCISCO
DEAR DR. MOORE: Thank you for your letter. I received a great deal of mail concerning the issue of confidentiality, reflecting heated opinions on both sides of the question.
However, I want to make one point absolutely clear to my readers: You did, in fact, warn the police on at least two occasions. You did NOT rely upon any claim of confidentiality to keep the threats secret.
The Supreme Court opinion cited by Ms. Tauer does not make clear that you attempted to have the patient committed and did not keep the matter confidential.