A bet­ter way to as­sess a can­di­date’s health

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus Colum­nist Ruth Mar­cus’ email ad­dress is ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com.

Amer­i­can vot­ers have re­ceived, we are told, all they are go­ing to get from their pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in the way of med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion. In light of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s ini­tially (and, if she had her way, per­ma­nently) undis­closed pneu­mo­nia, in light of Don­ald Trump’s un­healthy body mass in­dex and buf­foon­ish physi­cian, in light of both can­di­dates’ rel­a­tively ad­vanced ages, this move-right-along ad­mo­ni­tion is un­set­tling and un­sat­is­fy­ing.

Ex­perts have raised rea­son­able ques­tions about Clin­ton’s med­i­cal care and his­tory, in­clud­ing her record of blood clots and the use of the blood thin­ner Coumadin to treat them. And you don’t have to be an ex­pert to know that there are rea­son­able ques­tions about Trump’s health, given the will­ing­ness of his doc­tor to is­sue the as­sur­ance that “un­equiv­o­cally” Trump “will be the health­i­est in­di­vid­ual ever elected to the pres­i­dency.” No one should trust a doc­tor like that.

One pro­posed so­lu­tion would be for the can­di­dates to sub­mit to the “full McCain,” a ref­er­ence to the Ari­zona Repub­li­can sen­a­tor’s de­ci­sion to al­low re­porters to re­view his full med­i­cal records, al­beit for a sin­gle, three-hour win­dow.

This ap­proach is tempt­ing. Af­ter all, run­ning for pres­i­dent -- and be­ing pres­i­dent -- essen­tially means giv­ing up any claim to pri­vacy. The unique power of the of­fice, com­bined with the risk of a pres­i­dent suf­fer­ing from undis­closed health is­sues and the his­tory of pres­i­dents’ hid­ing such prob­lems, ar­gues for tip­ping the scales in fa­vor of more dis­clo­sure, not less.

And yet, the im­pli­ca­tions of mak­ing such dis­clo­sure a mat­ter of rou­tine ex­pec­ta­tion in the end tilt against such a de­mand. Med­i­cal records are more in­ti­mate and more sus­cep­ti­ble to ig­no­rant mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion than tax re­turns. The to­tal­ity of a can­di­date’s med­i­cal his­tory is not as im­por­tant as his or her cur­rent health, in­clud­ing whether past is­sues raise the prospect of fu­ture prob­lems.

Con­sider some sce­nar­ios. A fu­ture fe­male pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has had an abor­tion. The de­ci­sion to ter­mi­nate her preg­nancy has no bear­ing on her health, but could be po­lit­i­cally ex­plo­sive and is, in any event, a de­ci­sion that she should be able to choose to keep pri­vate.

Or she has a his­tory of mis­car­riages, about which she has never spo­ken pub­licly. Or a male can­di­date has a low sperm count or other prob­lem that made it dif­fi­cult for him to fa­ther a child and led the cou­ple to use ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion, some­thing they have not pre­vi­ously re­vealed. Or he has erec­tile dys­func­tion. Are we re­ally com­fort­able forc­ing such facts into pub­lic view?

How should we think about cos­metic surgery? Trump is re­ported to have had scalp re­duc­tion surgery to fix a bald spot. There’s lots of un­sup­ported on­line chat­ter about whether Clin­ton has had some work done. This in­for­ma­tion feels more pruri­ent than in­for­ma­tive.

What about at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der? Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, 14 per­cent of boys be­tween 5 and 17 have been di­ag­nosed with ADHD. Have their par­ents just ru­ined their pres­i­den­tial chances? As­sum­ing their grown-up selves are func­tion­ing ef­fec­tively, with or with­out med­i­ca­tion, is this in­for­ma­tion rel­e­vant?

One pro­posed and in­trigu­ing al­ter­na­tive to the full McCain is hav­ing a panel of es­teemed and in­de­pen­dent physi­cians con­duct a thor­ough as­sess­ment of the nom­i­nees.

There may be an even eas­ier way. Pres­i­dents rou­tinely re­lease the re­sults of the phys­i­cals con­ducted by the White House physi­cian, who is gen­er­ally an ac­tive­duty mil­i­tary of­fi­cer.

The can­di­dates could have a sim­i­lar checkup, con­sis­tent with what they would re­ceive as pres­i­dent. A mil­i­tary physi­cian would be con­sid­ered an in­de­pen­dent and trust­wor­thy source, some­one who could use his or her judg­ment to de­ter­mine what in a can­di­date’s med­i­cal his­tory is rel­e­vant in the present.

Surely, the pres­i­dent has au­thor­ity to or­der gov­ern­ment re­sources ded­i­cated to this en­ter­prise. And surely the vot­ers are en­ti­tled to more in­for­ma­tion, from a more trust­wor­thy source, than they are now re­ceiv­ing.

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