Today on Awearness Blog, we’re talking politics.
How much medical history are we, as Americans, entitled to have on our leaders? It is a difficult question, one that straddles the line of privacy. Clearly, voters should know upfront if a prospective president or vice president has a serious medical issue that may affect his or her ability to govern. Would we have elected John F. Kennedy president if we had known that he suffered from Addison’s Disease? Did Americans have a right to know about FDR’s polio?
Senator Joe Biden, the running mate of Democratic Party nominee Barack Obama, released his medical records this week. Twenty years ago the Delaware senator was operated on for potentially life-threatening aneurysms. In the 49 pages of medical documents released on Monday, Biden was essentially given a clean bill of health. Of the four candidates running for national office in 2008, Biden has released the most detailed medical information.
The other candidates have not, in varying degrees, been nearly as forthcoming as Biden on the state of their medical health. Governor Palin, for example, has released no medical information and, further, will not be interviewed on the subject. Senator Obama, by contrast, released a one page letter — 276 words — from his personal doctor Dr. David L. Scheiner, saying, in part, that the candidate was in “excellent health.” Is that enough information, though, for voters gearing for the most important election of our lives?
In an October 20th editorial, The New York Times wrote:
The big gaps in what the nominees have been willing to make public were described in The Times on Monday by Lawrence K. Altman, a medical reporter who is also a physician. Senator John McCain has put out far more information than his rival, but under such restricted conditions that it is impossible to nail down the truth about his past melanomas, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Senator Barack Obama has put out such meager information that voters have to take it largely on his campaign’s say-so that he is in good health.
McCain’s medical history and future is perhaps the biggest question mark hanging over the question of the health of the candidates. In 1999, during his first run for the presidency, McCain released an astonishing 1,500 pages of medical documents. This time around, in May, McCain released 1,200 pages of medical information. And this time there were conditions for the press review. His doctors at the Mayo Clinic would only answer questions for 45 minutes by telephone. The records could not be photocopied. And the reporters allowed to view the documents were few. CNN’s medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one of the handful of journalists allowed to see the records, told The Huffington Post “It was very sort of cloak and dagger and I’m sure they had their reasons. Given that I had my medical training, I was able to hone in on what it thought was important more quickly. But the pages weren’t numbered, so I had no way of knowing what was missing… As a reporter I can only comment on what I saw but I can’t say by any means that this was complete.”
Senator McCain, if elected, would be the oldest person ever inaugurated as President of the United States. In 2000 McCain underwent Stage IIa melanoma surgery. That was eight years ago, and the 10-year survival rate for Stage IIa melanoma is around 66 percent. Do voters have a right to have the full story with McCain, or, for that matter, with Senator Obama and Governor Palin?