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November 24, 1993

Ill-Advised: Presidential Health and Public Trust

Author Affiliations

Harvard Medical School Boston, Mass

JAMA. 1993;270(20):2497-2498. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510200103043

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This volume presents a discussion of "the willingness of presidents of the United States or their physicians, and sometimes presidents with their physicians, to cover up their illnesses." This is an important subject, one that has been addressed in various ways by others, and the author's conception is appropriate and reasonable. That the execution is not up to the conception is unfortunate. There is little question that certain of our presidents have had serious illnesses that have not been revealed to the public. Also, some have been under the care of physicians whose professional services appear decidedly inferior.

However, in judging today the performance of presidential physicians of many years ago, one must remember that they were using a standard of care now regarded as frightful but then considered appropriate. Thus, the author appears unreasonable in stating that when President Harrison was treated for pneumonia in 1841, the doctors "did