I take it as an article of faith that anyone who expects to be taken seriously as a mental health law scholar must write at least one Tarasoff article that is taken seriously.1-9 Notwithstanding the personal implications and its centrality to mental health professionals, in my 30 years of teaching and writing about the intersection of psychiatry and law, I had managed to avoid that rite of passage. I was not comfortable and found it difficult to say something original on a topic that has been so extensively explored. Part of the lure of this field of the law was that unlike constitutional law or property, which had long ago been carved up by some old dead white guys, mental health law was young, vibrant, and alive. As of 2009, all of Tarasoff authors, save one, had long since died. Nonetheless, unable to refuse the editor’s request and hold my head high as a Psychiatric Times editorial board member, I take this opportunity to revisit the decision in the hope of gaining new insights.
After wading through the initial shock and horror of the murder of 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech on April 16 by student Seung-Hui Cho, there is a natural impulse to rush to enact laws to prevent this type of tragic event from ever happening again in our schools. As professionals, as parents, as concerned members of a community, we have a felt need for an immediate response to ensure that schools are safe and secure places to learn and grow. Action is demanded. Not only must this opportunity/obligation not be squandered, but we must make sure that by our actions we do not make things worse.