The reluctance of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to be fully transparent about their health records highlights the need for a more accountable way of determining whether a person seeking this nation’s highest office is medically fit to serve.
Clinton’s just-disclosed bout of pneumonia itself is not the issue. In most cases, it is a condition easily treated through rest and medication. But Clinton would be 69 upon taking office in January. Donald Trump would be 70 — our oldest ever. Yet we know precious little about the health of either of them that is independently verifiable. That’s a problem.
We’ve come a long way from John McCain, who in 2008 invited reporters to peruse more than 1,000 pages of his medical records. McCain, then 72, was eager to put to rest doubts about his health, particularly since he’d been diagnosed years earlier with melanoma, one of the deadliest cancers. After the records release, little was said of his health and, eight years later, McCain continues to serve indefatigably as a U.S. senator.
Contrast that with Clinton, who was whisked away after stumbling at a Sept. 11 memorial event on Sunday. It was six hours before the campaign acknowledged what it had known since Friday — that Clinton had pneumonia and probably should have been in bed.
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist formerly with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Biomedical Ethics, has called for candidates to submit to a physical administered by an independent team of physicians who could screen for ailments that might affect their ability to perform their duties. Another, perhaps more palatable, option would be for candidates to allow such a panel to review their medical records and release a summary.
In any case, this election cycle has shown the need for a more rigorous physical vetting of candidates. Trump submitted a goofy doctor’s note proclaiming his lab results to be “astonishingly excellent” and, in language no doctor uses, stating that Trump “unequivocally would be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Uh, is there a little proof of that?
On the other hand, Clinton has suffered at various times a broken elbow; a concussion with resulting double vision; persistent coughing, and pneumonia. Many of these have been attributed to fatigue and dehydration. Fair enough; any of those things could happen to anyone. But coupled with Clinton’s unfortunate and pronounced tendency toward secrecy, the American public can be forgiven for wondering whether some critical bit of information is being withheld.
It all adds up to another bizarre couple of days in a campaign that has been filled with them. Clinton was already dealing with the fallout from having described half of her rival’s supporters — in one of the more memorable phrases of this election — as being a “basket of deplorables.”
Now, instead of the speech on the economy Clinton had planned to give in California on Tuesday, we most likely will face another week of endless speculation about candidate health, more vituperation about the language used to describe one another’s supporters and even less clarity about where the candidates would lead us.
There is no way to compel presidential candidates to prove their physical health, but there should be new, bipartisan expectations set for the amount of verifiable information available. There is too much power vested in a president to do otherwise.