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Are the Candidates Healthy?

These days, you might think that the public has access to any and all information about the presidential candidates. Over the course of the long, drawn-out campaign season, the media has revealed seemingly every secret that certain politicians might have wanted to keep concealed.

But when it comes to the candidates’ health, we might not be quite as informed as we think.

A recent New York Times article argues that voters don’t have full access to the health records of the presidential and vice presidential candidates.

The candidates have released some information this year, ranging from a 1-page memo from Mr. Obama to a 1,200 page report from Mr. McCain.

That said, the information released is incomplete.  In the cases of Senators McCain and Biden, there is not enough information for experts to determine whether the candidates are healthy enough to live through their first term in office.

  • In 1993, Senator McCain began a series of operations to remove malignant melanomas. The most visible of the operations occurred in 2000 when he underwent extensive surgery to remove a melanoma on his face and neck. If known, the severity and type of the melanomas would allow doctors to predict whether the cancer will return in a deadly form in the future. This information has not been released by the campaign.
  • In 1988, Senator Biden had emergency surgery for an aneurysm in an artery in his brain, and elective surgery to treat a second one. His campaign released a 49-page document on his health status, but the document did not indicate whether he’d had tests in recent years to check whether he has a new aneurysm.

The Times requested complete, up-to-date information from the campaigns, and was refused.  This refusal to supply health information to the media is a new trend.

After emergency medical events forced the release of health information about a number of politicians, from Thomas Eagleton (depression) to Senator Bill Bradley (heart rhythm abnormality), the media has made a practice of asking for and reviewing candidate health records.

And since 1980, candidates have complied with the requests, with politicians from Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole, to Al Gore and John Kerry providing information and allowing their physicians to conduct interviews.

But this year, the candidates refused and as a result, we do not have sufficient information to judge the health of the nominees.

Should the candidates make their health information available?

Some will certainly argue that health records are private and that the candidates have the right to keep the information to themselves.

On the other hand, does the American public have a right to know the prognosis of a recurring illness that may prove fatal?

The article points to the example of Senator Paul Tsongas, who claimed to be cancer-free during a 1992 presidential campaign for the democratic nomination. He had undergone a bone-marrow transplant six years earlier to treat non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

In fact, the cancer had returned and Mr. Tsongas died before his first term as president would have ended.

What do you think: Should presidential candidates be obligated to provide their health records to the media for analysis? Or should the media respect a candidate’s right to privacy?

Check out our in-depth analysis of the two candidates’ health plans here.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • health is personal November 2, 2008, 3:17 pm

    I guess I feel like a person’s health is their business. There are some great leaders that may battle things like depression, skin cancer and other ailments – that doesn’t mean that they aren’t able to lead. I think that people deserve some level of privacy – even if they are running for president. If they are unable to fulfill their role in office – our government is set up to have someone take over for them.

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