On the duty to protect: an evolutionary perspective.
T. J. Rudegeair and P. S. Appelbaum,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
20(4): 419-26, 1992.
Psychotherapists' duty to protect potential victims from their patients' violence has evolved in recent
years toward a narrower set of obligations. This reformulation of the duty appears to us to be
consistent with a sociobiological analysis of the reasonableness of compelled altruism. Altruistic
behavior (e.g., rescuing a potential victim) takes place rarely in the animal world, and even among
humans usually occurs only in situations in which reciprocity is likely. The Tarasoff-like duty to
protect violates this sociobiological rule by requiring therapists to place the interests of an unknown
victim over a known patient, and even to subordinate their own interests to the victim's. This has
never been a socially tenable position. Psychotherapists appear to have escaped from this situation
by avoiding potentially dangerous patients. The changes in the duty to protect have mitigated this
dilemma, by moving the duty in a direction consistent with the evolutionary theory of altruism.