Former White House Doctor Outlines Gray Areas In Candidates' Health NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Rob Darling, a former White House physician, about how much voters have a right to know about the medical histories of presidential candidates.
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Former White House Doctor Outlines Gray Areas In Candidates' Health

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Former White House Doctor Outlines Gray Areas In Candidates' Health

Former White House Doctor Outlines Gray Areas In Candidates' Health

Former White House Doctor Outlines Gray Areas In Candidates' Health

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/491390010/491390011" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Rob Darling, a former White House physician, about how much voters have a right to know about the medical histories of presidential candidates.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

How much do we need to know about a presidential candidate's health? It's been an issue this year. The Trump campaign claims - in this case, it's former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to host Shannon Bream on "Fox News Sunday" - that Hillary Clinton is physically unfit for office.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

RUDY GIULIANI: What we want to do is go online.

SHANNON BREAM: Which...

GIULIANI: All you have to do is go...

BREAM: Wait, which - her campaign and a number of people defending her, saying there's nothing factual to the claims about her health, and that's...

GIULIANI: Go online.

BREAM: That's speculation at best.

GIULIANI: So go online and put down Hillary Clinton illness. Take a look at the videos for yourself.

SIEGEL: Those searches, in fact, lead to very unconvincing evidence of any serious illness. Clinton supporters have questioned a letter from Trump's doctor. It says Trump will be - this is a quote - "the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." Does any of this actually matter? We're going to ask Rob Darling, who was a White House physician in the late 1990s, and he joins us via Skype. Welcome to the program.

ROB DARLING: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And, Dr. Darling, what do you think I or any other voter needs to know about a president and, by implication, a presidential candidate's medical history?

DARLING: Well, unfortunately, we have many, many examples where leaders don't divulge all of this information to the public. President Roosevelt's health - many aspects of his health were kept secret during his presidency. That's not the only example. While we want to trust our leaders and our candidates, we also, I think, given the importance - what this next president is going to face - we need to be reasonably assured that they are able to serve and their health is good for the next four years.

SIEGEL: Where do you think the limit is? That is, do we need to know that someone running for president 10 years ago had a prescription for an antidepressant? Or do we need to know a female candidate's reproductive history?

DARLING: Well, I don't think that we need to literally see every piece of paper that's been ever been documented by a physician. But I think the candidates should allow their personal physicians, perhaps, to be interviewed or something along those lines to summarize. And then, I think, based upon the answers to those questions, delve further, if deemed necessary. Certainly, some things, though, that could conceivably affect one's ability to lead - that needs to be divulged. Voters really do have a right to know, but there are gray areas. There's no question about that.

SIEGEL: I want to get your sense, from your having been a White House physician, of what the strains of office are? You've mentioned FDR. He, of course, had suffered from polio, and that was not made very public. And yet he saw the U.S. through to the end of the Second World War. That would suggest perhaps people can perform remarkably well despite their illness.

DARLING: Well, it's amazing what some leaders are able to overcome. I recall when I was a White House physician to President Clinton, he would get his daily PDB - the presidential daily brief. And occasionally I would be there when he read it. And sometimes I would see him wince or cringe. And I'm thinking to myself - what might he be reading that we're going to see in the news today?

I was there during the second campaign. The stress that they put - now, President Clinton - young, healthy, active - he was really up to it. But the pressures of that campaign - I would follow him around with the nurse, and I was exhausted. And I wasn't doing half of what he had to go through. So I guess if Trump is elected, he'll be the oldest. He'll be older than Ronald Reagan was when he was elected. And Mrs. Clinton, I guess, will be - what? - 69. So I think we need to be assured their health is up to the task.

SIEGEL: Dr. Darling, thank you very much for talking with us today.

DARLING: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Rob Darling was a White House physician in the late 1990s. He joined us via Skype.

POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report we say that President Roosevelt was in office through to the end of World War II. In fact, he died on April 12, 1945. Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.In this report we say that President Roosevelt was in office through to the end of World War II. In fact, he died on April 12, 1945. Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.

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Correction Aug. 26, 2016

In this report, we say that President Roosevelt was in office through to the end of World War II. In fact, he died on April 12, 1945. Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.