Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: legal and ethical aspects
  1. D M Foreman
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr D M Foreman
    Consultant, Health Service Research Fellow and Honorary Senior Lecturer, Berkshire Mental Health NHS Trust, University of Reading and the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley, Skimped Hill Health Centre, Market Square, Bracknell RG12 1LH, UK; david_foreman{at}


Attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) remains a controversial disorder, despite it now being a well validated clinical diagnosis. Ethical and legal issues are important in determining how doctors should behave in offering a diagnosis or treatment that may generate strong and unpredictable reactions from children, their families, or other agencies. A model for routine ethical practice was proposed, based on three sets of assumptions. Firstly, that ethical practice is consistent with the four principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, and respect for autonomy. Secondly, ethical concerns lead to legal processes, whose task is to ensure ethical practice. Thirdly, that we are working in the interests of our patients. Current relevant literature was organised in terms of this model, and recommendations for practice derived from it. Though there is no general ethical problem regarding either the routine diagnosis or treatment of ADHD, ethical difficulties surround some special cases, especially when doctors are working in conjunction with other agencies or coping with non-medical frameworks. Particular care needs to be taken with confidentiality and consent, the limits of which are currently confused. The model worked well with everyday ethical problems, though more difficult cases required careful individual scrutiny.

  • ADHD
  • ethics
  • hyperactivity
  • hyperkinesis
  • law

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Competing interests: the author has received an Unrestricted Educational Grant from Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals to evaluate a nurse led hyperactivity follow up clinic