Duty to protect

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This article is about the ethical obligation of U.S. mental health professionals. For the international relations concept, see Responsibility to protect.

The duty to protect is the responsibility of a mental health professional to protect patients and others from foreseeable harm. If a client makes statements that suggest suicidal or homicidal ideation, the clinician has the responsibility to take steps to warn intended victims, and if necessary, initiate involuntary commitment.[1]


The duty to protect was established by Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California,[2] which has been widely adopted by other states.[3] This case determined that the clinician has the duty to warn an identifiable victim. Jablonski by Pahls v. United States extended this responsibility to include the involuntary commitment of a dangerous individual. Ewing v. Goldstein extended the duty to protect to include acting upon the statements of third parties that indicate possible threat, and determined that it was not sufficiently discharged by initiating involuntary commitment; warning identifiable victims is also necessary.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Corey, Corey & Callahan (2007). Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions. Brooks Cole Publishing. 
  2. ^ Simon, R.I. (2001). Psychiatry and the Law. American Psychiatric Publishing. 
  3. ^ a b "Back to the Past in California: A Temporary Retreat to a Tarasoff Duty to Warn". Journal of the American Academy for Psychiatry and the Law. Retrieved 2008-01-08.