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Duty to Warn

Based on the 1969 stalking murder of Berkeley student Tanya Tarasoff and the consequent shocking legal case that changed doctor-patient confidentiality laws in America.

DUTY TO WARN

You go to a psychiatrist or counselor and pour out your heart... your sadness, your failings, your deepest, darkest secrets... secrets you have never shared with anyone. You trust this professional because they are uniquely trained to help people through troubled times, and you come to them with the expectation that if you are completely open and honest, they will navigate you through troubled waters and on to calm seas- in your relationships, your feelings, your entire well-being.

Now... imagine this: YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT KILLING SOMEONE YOU KNOW. And you open up... and share that with your psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist-patient relationship is one of the most protected in our legal system... or was, until October 27, 1969, when on the front lawn of a nondescript home in a quiet Berkeley suburb, a young woman lay dying, stabbed repeatedly and shot to death by a man who declared that he loved her.

His name is Prosenjit Poddar, an Indian-born Berkeley graduate student, full of intelligence and great promise, who months earlier met Tanya Tarasoff at a dance at the International House. From the moment he laid eyes on her, he became obsessed with her and planned to marry her. They went on a few dates but Tanya did not share the same romantic feelings. She was just starting school and wanted to explore the myriad possibilities of college life.

Poddar's obsessive, single-minded pursuit of Tanya led him to tape their conversations, stalk her, and show up at her home that afternoon, where he burst through her front door and mercilessly executed her.

With her last strength, Tanya fled her home to collapse before her horrified neighbors as her killer knelt beside her, tenderly declaring his love and insisting her death was her own fault. Calm and composed now that he had accomplished the act he had been planning for months, he laid down the 13-inch-long butcher knife beside his victim, re-entered her home, and summoned the police.

This tragic afternoon spelled the end of Tanya Tarasoff's life, but began a seminal and monumental court case that reaches the core of the American justice system. And all because... Poddar had gone to the Counseling Center on Berkeley's campus to seek help with the turbulent feelings he was experiencing. It was in counseling that he shared his darkest secret... he was thinking about killing Tanya.

The legal aftermath of those counseling sessions now guides one of America's most intimate, sacred professional concepts --- that of doctor-patient confidentiality. Tanya's murder has forced therapists, if they have reason to believe a patient intends to harm another, to report it. They have an obligation to contact the authorities and the intended victim. Failure to do so can be a crime. Decades later, the landmark California Supreme Court's 1978 ruling is still fiercely debated. New law is being written every day in Tanya Tarasoff's name.

The limited series Duty to Warn returns us to one of America's most turbulent eras. The late 1960s saw Vietnam War protests and student activism on college campuses, the harbinger of drug use, police brutality, and cries for racial justice. It also saw the awakening of free human sexuality in the Summer of Love, and a woman's right to choose what to do with her body.

This series explores the events (with Berkeley as backdrop), the people, (young liberal voices speaking up and acting out), and the choices that led to Tanya's death. Who would have thought on that awful day in October 1969 that this needless, tragic death would spawn decisions that would alter and inevitably save thousands of lives? Poddar's criminal trial shook Tanya's friends and family, as well as the Berkeley and Bay Area communities to their core.

And the Tarasoff family's subsequent civil case, Tarasoff v. the Regents of the University of California, still shapes the doctor-patient relationship today. The Duty to Warn that emerged seeks to protect a patient's potential victim while defining the thin line that doctors must tread when deciding whose safety and secrets they must protect, and at what cost.

This story takes you to the scene of the murder and into the hearts of those who suffer still.

Script Excerpt
Format:
Screenplay
Budget:
Modest
Starring Roles For:
Emma Roberts
A young Elizabeth Olsen
Karan Brar
In the Vein Of:
Assassination of Gianni Versace
Eclipsed by Death: The Life of River Phoenix
Sophie: A Murder in West Cork
Posted:
08/12/2021
Updated:
10/28/2021
Author Bio:
ELLEN BROWN FURMAN Ellen Brown Furman is the screenwriter of The Infiltrator starring Bryan Cranston, and Bigger, and Postcard Killings. Her short stories have been published in Tampa Review, CALYX, Nimrod International Journal, and elsewhere. She is a Pushcart Prize Nominee and a Finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction. She received an MFA in Creative Fiction from NYU Paris.

LINDA BOROFF Linda Boroff is a produced screenwriter who has also written three novels, and was nominated for a 2021 Pushcart Prize in fiction.

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