Harvard Health Letter

The election-year physical

Does disclosure of candidates' health records ensure against an unfit chief executive, or might there be a better approach?

It's become a quadrennial ritual. The media demand the health records of the presidential candidates. The campaign organizations comply. The pundits then compare and contrast the personal data and speculate what they might portend — for the candidate and for the country. The ostensible reason for making the Presidential hopefuls' health histories public is to reveal any factors that may cause their deaths or render them unable to discharge the duties of their office.

In May 2008, Senators McCain and Obama made their medical information public. McCain offered a pool of 20 reporters the chance to read 1,173 pages of his medical records for three hours. A larger number of reporters were also allowed to participate in a 45-minute press conference with three of McCain's physicians from the Mayo Clinic. Obama released a single-page undated letter from the doctor who has been his primary care physician since 1987, Dr. David L. Scheiner, an internist affiliated with the University of Chicago Hospitals and Rush University Medical Center. There were few surprises in either candidate's records.

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