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June 4, 2008

Presidential Health and the Public's Need to Know

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: University of Michigan, Center for the History of Medicine, Ann Arbor.

JAMA. 2008;299(21):2558-2560. doi:10.1001/jama.299.21.2558

As the war-hero-turned-politician contemplated a second run for the presidency, several urgent concerns were on his mind. Foremost was his recent diagnosis of a medical condition that could cause sudden death or serious disability. The candidate's most trusted medical and political advisors persuaded him to avoid divulging such potent information to the public lest it ruin him at the polls.

This political scenario is not drawn from the 2008 presidential election currently occupying the minds of many Americans. It occurred 53 years ago, shortly after President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1955 myocardial infarction and before he announced his ultimately successful candidacy for reelection. At the time, the details of that near fatal event, as well as Eisenhower's 1956 intestinal obstruction and a mild stroke with transient motor aphasia in 1957, were shrouded in secrecy. Throughout his second term, Eisenhower's delicate health was a constant preoccupation.1