Publicize presidential candidates' health records, historians say

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If elected president, Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, would be the oldest president to take office. That's why it was a big deal two weeks ago when McCain's personal doctors proclaimed him to be in excellent health. The assessment on McCain's health, however, was released in a tightly controlled news conference in which reporters were not provided with copies of McCain's medical records and were granted limited information in order, McCain's doctors said, to protect McCain's privacy. For example, his doctors wouldn't say whether McCain had tests to assess his cognitive status.

That's just not good enough, say two medical historians in an editorial published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. They say it's time for the nation to create a congressionally appointed, bipartisan, unbiased panel of medical, ethical and legal scholars to review the health history of all presidents, vice presidents and presidential candidates. The reports from this commission would be submitted to the White House and Congress and made public.

Polls show that Americans believe good health is essential to the president's performance. But the authors of the report, from the University of Michigan, say that history shows the public is often in the dark about the health of the country's chief executive. Moreover, the fact that Americans are living longer and are more comfortable electing age-70-and-older officials increases the need for more candor on the part of those elected officials. The recently tightened health-privacy rights afforded to all Americans, they say, simply shouldn't apply to the nation's top dogs.

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