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Medical News & Perspectives
December 19, 2017

Finding a Better Way to Assess Presidential Fitness

JAMA. 2017;318(23):2285-2286. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.17482

Several weeks after former President Ronald Reagan announced his Alzheimer disease diagnosis in 1994, his predecessor appealed to the medical community. But Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, didn’t urge physicians to take up a fight against the neurodegenerative disease. Instead, Carter attempted to tackle presidential disability and the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution.

In a JAMA commentary, Carter contended that Section 4 of the amendment—a mechanism that allows the vice president and a majority of Cabinet members to pronounce a president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”—is inadequate. They would need accurate, unbiased medical advice from the president’s physicians, Carter wrote. It would require those physicians to delicately balance patient confidentiality, personal interest, and the country’s well-being.

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