Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics

Special Section: Issues in Consent

Secrets of the Couch and the Grave: The Anne Sexton Case

Edmund D. Pellegrinoa1

a1 Director of the Georgetown Center for the Advanced Study of Ethics and John Carroll Professor of Medicine and Medical Humanities, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Washington, DC.

In 1991, Diane Wood Middlebrook, a professor of English at Stanford University, published a biography of the poet Anne Sexton in which, among other things, she used as source material some 300 tapes of Sexton's psychotherapeutic sessions with her psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Orne. After some years of reluctance and with the concurrence of Sexton's daughter and literary executor, Linda Gray Sexton, Orne released the tapes to Professor Middlebrook. Middlebrook's picture of Sexton drew heavily on the tapes, supplemented by scrapbooks, letters, photos, clippings, unpublished poems, and hospital records.