Monday, October 06, 2008

An Urgent Transparency Concern

I have an urgent transparency concern that impacts all political parties, our government, the entire nation and the world.

It is brought to mind by the current publicity noting whether McCain's health records have been fully exposed, that only 20 reporters were invited to a three-hour only session last May to review 1,173 pages of these records without the ability to take copies. Of course, the records refer just to McCain's physical health, and the review time allotted and the number of reporters involved seem inappropriate in view of the gravity of the situation.

But why pick on McCain? True, his melanoma history is an issue, but what about the physical health records of all four candidates running? Further, what about their mental health records? Why aren't they vetted and presented in an organized way simultaneously for all to see?

Shouldn't there be an election law requiring that certain standards be met in the release of both physical and mental health records to the media? And once elected shouldn't presidents and vice presidents have a required mental health check up the same way it is now traditional to have a physical health check up--with results reported to the public?

According to NYU’s Scienceline blog — which is produced by graduate students in the university’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program — the medical records of presidential candidates are shielded by federal law. No candidate for commander-in-chief is legally required to disclose any medical conditions. Nevertheless, I feel strongly that the public has a right to know if a candidate suffers from any physical or mental condition that impedes his or her ability to govern … and that includes the ability to make a rational decision.

For 20years, mental conditions were hushed up, insurance did not cover psychiatrist visits, and the voting public would tag anyone as "crazy" if he or she had a psychological consultation. Many remember the removal of Tom Eagleton as a Democratic VP candidate in 1972 because it was discovered that he once had had shock treatments. Yet, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 18 US Presidents suffered from a variety of psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse.

Fortunately, times have progressed, we are more sophisticated and understand the wonderful miracles that can be wrought by medical treatments of many kinds. That does not mean that certain conditions may not, indeed, warrant removal. On the other hand disclosure should not necessarily mean termination of a candidacy. But standards for disclosure should be set, and the degree of detail that is required. The 20 reporter, 3-hour limit McCain imposed should not be at his discretion. Today, sitting presidents customarily go through an annual physical with personal physicians, but the examination is not legally required. And even in this enlightened age, there is no law requiring a public report that our leaders are still of sound mind and body.

It was shocking for me to learn in Doris Kearn Goodwin's book, No Ordinary Time, which focused on the domestic impact of World War II, that Franklin Roosevelt had not had a complete physical checkup for years during his presidency, and only did so at the insistence of his daughter, as he became increasingly listless during the latter part of his third term. His physical showed that he had been suffering from an increasingly serious case of congestive heart failure over three years---undetected until that checkup. If my memory serves me correctly, the book revealed that this information was never released to the American public. Roosevelt was reelected for a fourth term---and then died within a year after the election.

Our nation's survival may be dependent on legislated transparency when it comes to the health condition of our candidates and leaders.

Technorati Tags: transparency, McCain, health records, presidential election, election law, Scienceline blog, Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, Tom Eagleton, mental health, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Doris Kearn Goodwin, Frankin Roosevelt, business, communications, public relations


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