Citizens have the right to know the state of their leaders’ health


In sickness or in health: Should politicians be required to release medical records?


Besides being chief of state, the U.S. President serves as chief administrator, chief diplomat, chief spokesperson, chief legislator, chief of party, chief citizen and commander in chief.

That’s a lot of “chiefs.”

With that great weight of responsibility falling on a pair of shoulders, sound physical and mental health are unquestionably essential.

Currently, not much is required of presidential candidates in terms of releasing private information.

Releasing medical forms is a personal decision, though many candidates have chosen to publicize their records over the years.

To some extent, this privacy is rightly permitted.

As human beings, presidential candidates are protected under the same privacy laws that all American citizens are protected under. But there is a huge difference because these candidates are running for a position that puts them as the leader of more than 300 million people.

For that reason, voters have the right to know that their leader is physically and mentally capable of doing his or her job.

In 2004, a Gallup Poll asked Americans whether they felt presidential health played an important role in his or her ability to perform well as president. A resounding 96% felt that it did.

Yet, despite widespread mutual concern, history has shown that the public knows very little about presidential health.

John F. Kennedy, the youngest elected U.S. President, appeared strong and vivacious to the American public. The public didn’t know JFK suffered from numerous health problems, including Addison’s disease, which can become life-threatening under stress.

Also, while Franklin D. Roosevelt’s struggle with polio was publicly known, his congestive heart failure, hypertension, acute bronchitis and pulmonary disease were kept secret.

During this time, Roosevelt’s physician issued a note reading that the President was in remarkable health. Unfortunately, Roosevelt died only a few months into his fourth term.

Surely, these men can be admired for their stoicism and ability to lead despite their suffering, but their perseverance should not conceal the fact that the public, whom they were responsible for, were left clueless about the state of their leader.

In 2008, an independent panel of doctors from the American College of Physicians proposed that all presidential and vice-presidential candidates undergo a health exam.

A previous white house physician, Dr. Connie Mariano, was part of this proposal.

Mariano said, “In a perfect world, wouldn’t it be great if we had a committee that performed physicals and said this person is good to go, just like we do for airline pilots, or in the military.”

The proposal was turned down.

Instead, U.S. citizens were, and still are, left to rely on the letters from candidates’ personal physicians, which, as history shows, are not always truthful.

A personal doctor’s note may be sufficient for an ill student to stay home from school, but when it comes to the country’s presidential candidate, the public deserves to know more.


Jessica Ruf is a sophomore journalism and English major from Sioux Falls, S.D.


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