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Suppose Emma is a patient of psychiatrist Dr. Jones, in New York State. In the course of their visits, Emma mentions that part of the stress and anxiety she feels is because of the pressure her husband puts on her and his intense personality.

Dr. Jones wishes to explore this more so he invites Emma to bring her husband to a local art gallery exhibit opening where Dr. Jones plans to attend as well, so he could meet them and observe Emma's husband and his interactions with her.

Are there any clear ethical issues with Dr. Jones invitation?

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Yes, there is a clear ethical issue. If Dr. Jones wants to observe Emma's husband, he should obtain informed consent from him beforehand.

Various associations of psychiatrists have a code of ethics in which these types of principles are recorded. See for instance this code of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/docs/default-source/improving-care/better-mh-policy/college-reports/college-report-cr186.pdf?sfvrsn=15f49e84_2.

Principle 5: Psychiatrists shall seek valid consent from their patients before undertaking any procedure or treatment.

However, if both Emma and her husband agree, after being adequately informed about what this observational research entails, I would see no problem.

Edit: Besides the consent issue, there is another ethical issue. By asking Emma to bring her husband to observe him, he is making her complicit, which could further damage their relationship.

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  • $\begingroup$ what if he doesn't clearly say that he wants to observe them, but just invites them casually? $\endgroup$
    – lgshost
    Feb 13 at 8:44
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    $\begingroup$ If he invites them to observe them, he is dishonest to both Emma and her husband, and that would be worse, as in that case he did not seek valid consent from both partners. $\endgroup$
    – bobi
    Feb 14 at 9:04

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