Several times has happened that the definition of mental disorders/ psychological-psychiatrist therapies/theories have been proven wrong. Yet they have been applied over people causing them problems and harm in their lives. Usually graduated psychologists/ psychiatrists are ignorant which is the supposed proof of these theories. They've been told they have been proven sometimes, sometimes they've been given some details, and they don't know they don't have a real basis behind them until it's massively accepted they are wrong. Personally, I see little to no responsibilities in them. In the other hand, governments and states promote these theories in secondary schools, they teach them and form professionals in national universities, and they hold the power to treat people in trials and to internate someone for being ill under these theories. Some other organizations, which I'm not very aware who they are, but I assume they might be colleges or agrupations of psychiatrists/psychologists regulate their professional's activities, and I assume they might be the ones giving the content to national universities for the formation of professionals under these theories. When one of these theories/therapies are proven wrong and have caused harm over people, who is the legal responsibility?

I assume there aren't many cases like this, but I make the parallelism with biological sciences. If an association or group produces a medicament which is proven harmful for people later, and that association teaches doctors to give this medicament to people, with the approval and fundings/places of national government created universities, it would be pretty much the same. Then, in the case stated in the topic question, who would be legally responsible for the application of these mainstream wrong psychological/psychiatrist therapies?

  • It kind of depends on the situation. The question is too broad.
    – Putvi
    Apr 13, 2019 at 18:51

2 Answers 2


Your question is almost too general to answer, but the basic answer is; being wrong is not a crime. Negligence is, but applying generally accepted medical diagnoses and treatments is not negligent. Malpractice is also a crime (or at least reason to suspend a medical licence); but evolving a theory based on experimental evidence, submitting it to peer review and having it generally accepted, and then later seeing it superseded by another theory is not malpractice, it is the normal scientific method.

And no definition has ever been "proven wrong" since a definition, like an axiom, is neither verifiable nor falsifiable. The definitions of disorders vary betweeen countries, and most certainly change over time, but that is not because of any discovery or proof.

  • 1
    Negligence is not generally a crime, so you might want to dial that back a bit.
    – user6726
    Apr 13, 2019 at 19:57
  • TBF the question is way to broad to just answer like this. @user6726
    – Putvi
    Apr 13, 2019 at 20:15
  • The question is quite interesting though. I mean what happens after the Holocaust? Everyone points the finger up or down the chain of command. But what about other atrocities, like eugenics in North Carolina, or the Muskogee experiments, or the sterilisation of Alan Turing? Or slavery? Taking the latter, large sections of society quite arguably dishonestly propagated ideological justification for these atrocities, often under the guise of science. And the harm was real, even though the ideologies that justified the practises had been accepted by mainstream. Take a doctor that treated a slave Mar 3, 2023 at 0:18
  • Inclined to escaping repeatedly as psychiatrically ill which was a medically accepted doctrine within the standard of care. The doctor thus wasn’t committing malpractice nor even arguably negligence, but what about the eugenics institutes that promulgated these theories and pushed them to become mainstream? Someone somewhere along the line must have acted wrongfully and criminally I think is the thrust of this question and I find it quite interesting. Mar 3, 2023 at 0:21

Do your best

If a skilled and licensed physician does her best and follows what is currently medical best practices, she generally does not bear liability even if those best practices are later shown to be misguided. Medicine is a field where best practices are determined within the community of professionals rather than by law (with some exceptions where specific treatments are made illegal). Doctors know that they need to balance treatment against the possibility that their actions could do more harm than good. Here's one version of the Hippocratic Oath. Several passages reflect the fact that doctors don't know everything and are really trying to do their best.

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.

I will not be ashamed to say "I know not", nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

  • Where is this version from? It’s pretty rich. Still, I’d direct you to my comment on the answer above. Mar 3, 2023 at 0:23
  • I don’t think this answers the main thrust of the question of “on whom does the liability fall,” other than to clarify that it is clearly not the individual professionals who are applying the treatments. Mar 3, 2023 at 0:24

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