As the political season heats up, there once again have begun the perennial rumblings that the media is “too intrusive” or doesn’t treat one candidate as fairly as another. I don’t worry about this much; there are as many publications on the left as on the right, and if one politician gets heat from a certain sector, you can rest assured that the politician’s opponents will be similarly scrutinized by partisans of the other camps. It can be loud and messy, but I’m convinced it all balances out in the end.
However, and invariably, as the political microscope becomes more focused, there will be more talk about what is ‘fair game’ for journalists. A politician’s family? Dumb things that person may or may not have done in college half-a-century prior?
With HIPAA and Protected Health Information (PHI) in mind… are politicians owed privacy as the rest of us? And if so, to what degree?
Would FDR’s polio be pertinent today to the landmark legislation he championed and his stewardship of the nation through WWII?
Should Thos Eagleton’s history of depression have removed him from contention for the second highest position in the land?
I read recently that, the week following his inauguration in 1961, John F. Kennedy appointed his personal doctor, Janet Travell, M.D., as presidential physician, marking the first time that a woman had held that important post.
This breaking of the glass ceiling, though, came with some additional baggage. Dr Travell had an impressive professional resume, including prestigious academic appointments in pharmacology, orthopedics, and cardiology. She then-already enjoyed an established reputation as a pioneer in the treatment of chronic pain conditions.
[sidebar: it is said to have been her recommendations on ergonomics that later resulted in the iconic images of JFK sitting in rocking chairs]
But when expressly asked about rumors of JFK’s health during the 1960 campaign, she stated that he did not have Addison’s Disease and that she had never treated him for same – both statements found after his death to be inaccurate.
In short, she lied.
Additionally – though this may be a reflection of the times and not as much the clinician – Dr Travell prescribed for JFK an astounding array of potentially habituating agents to treat his pain, including high doses of Luminal, Librium, Miltown, Laudanum, Meperidine, and Dolophine. Add to that his frequent, sometimes nightly, use of Nembutal for sleep. Though the Kennedy family credited Dr Travell with enabling a determined JFK to maintain his punishing schedule in the face of physical difficulties, Dr Jeffrey Kelman, who later researched and published a book on Kennedy’s health, has since stated that the president’s ailments probably would earn him social security disability benefits were he were alive today. And as one who had seen combat, he’d also arguably be 100% service connected through the Veterans’ Administration for such serious and chronic debilities.
All of this occurring concurrently with the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis!
However, one might say, he successfully navigated those challenges. Yes, others will add, but what if his sensorium had been clouded by that potentially stupifying drug cocktail?
As physicians, we deal with the headaches of HIPAA daily, the near-constant concerns over aspects of privacy – presumed, expressed, implied – that any/ all practitioners can readily appreciate. We worry about minutiae like names on the spines of filed charts being visible from a distance.
The media has no such worries in reporting on the body politic. Or should it?
All points worth keeping in mind as we enter the nominating primaries.
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