Health Disclosures for Presidential Candidates

PHOTO courtesy of afp/getty images via | Hillary Clinton attended the Sept. 11 memorial in New York City, despite having pneumonia.

Photo courtesy of afp/getty images via | Hillary Clinton attended the Sept. 11 memorial in New York City, despite having pneumonia.

Emilt Kowalik ’18
Assistant Opinions Editor

There has been a long history of presidential candidates hiding illness or poor health from the public in order to put forward the idea that they are the paragon of perfect wellness. Efforts such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s painstaking care to hide the extent of his paralysis from the public and John F. Kennedy’s advancement of the image of himself as a healthy, vibrant candidate, despite the medical conditions he suffered, are just a couple examples of a longstanding trend of presidents and presidential candidates’ tendency toward incomplete or inaccurate medical disclosure.

This tendency continues today, though in an evolved form. Most recently, the major media attention paid to the current presidential candidates’ attempts to sidestep and tiptoe around the issue of their health has again advanced the question of the public’s right to full disclosure regarding a candidate’s medical history.

In the case of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, though, it appears that talk about their good health — or lack of it — has been much ado about nothing. Health disclosure issues that could normally have been put aside in a single news cycle have instead morphed into major talking points due to spin from both candidates. Both Clinton’s unnecessarily secretive handling of her bout with pneumonia and other minor medical issues earlier in the year, as well as Trump’s trademark boisterous and over-the-top method of dealing with requests for his health records, have led to heavy media coverage and even more negative reactions toward these two already negatively viewed candidates.

Instead of releasing information about her illness to the public, Clinton attempted to conceal her malady until it became apparent during the Sept. 11 memorial service. Only at that point did her campaign reveal that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia. The secrecy has morphed what should have been an inconsequential disclosure into a veritable campaign issue, as Trump’s team forwards the opinion that Clinton faces serious health issues and the public becomes more and more troubled by a campaign that appears more concerned about masking vulnerabilities than about telling the truth.

Trump, on his part, has released a minimal amount of medical information, which has his customary normative of being skewed in his benefit. He recently appeared on “The Dr. Oz Show,” during which he gave a self-assessment of his health and brandished — in a showman style reveal — some of his “medical records.” These records turned out to be a cursory summary of test results supplied by the same doctor who last year provided the public with a ludicrous, widely criticized testimonial regarding Trump’s health.

While it is important to know if a presidential candidate has a medical issue which could affect their ability to fulfill the duties of the office, in this campaign the issue of medical disclosure has been blown well out of proportion. Instead of medical information being just another insignificant topic on which the candidates can bash each other, private information such as a candidate’s medical records should, to the furthest extent possible, be kept a private matter.

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