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Hillary's health - From right-wing conspiracy to front page news

The candidate has been diagnosed with pneumonia – but is the focus on her health fair?

Source: CNN/YouTube

FAIR OR UNFAIR, Hillary Clinton’s health is now front and centre of the US presidential election.

In the past 24 hours, talk about her physical well-being has moved from some of the crazier parts of the right-wing blogosphere to become the top story on every major US news network.

Although it’s harsh to make any judgements on the former First Lady on the basis of a video of her falling over, her campaign team’s delay in being up-front about what happened is perhaps more worthy of judgement.

From their point of view, it was unwise to feed a narrative by conspiracy theorists that Clinton is hiding a serious health problem.

Even Clinton’s allies have been critical of her lack of transparency. Barack Obama’s former campaign strategist David Axelrod for one.

So what do we know about Clinton’s health? What right do voters have to know the health of candidates? And even if someone has a serious condition, should it even matter when judging their fitness for office?

Hillary health check 

Last night, it was confirmed by her doctor that Clinton was being treated for pneumonia. She was diagnosed on Friday and cut back on some of her engagements. This cull did not include Sunday’s 9/11 memorial from which she was forced to leave due to illness.

Pneumonia can affect people of all ages but it can be particularly serious, even life-threatening, for the very old or the very young. Smokers, as well as people with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease, are also particularly vulnerable.

Clinton is 68 and does not have any of the above conditions. 

When pneumonia strikes, the tiny air sacs inside the lungs fill up with pus and fluid, limiting oxygen intake and making it painful for the patient to breathe.

The normal treatment involves antibiotics and patients are urged to rest and consume plenty of fluids. Hospitalisation is recommended only in high-risk cases and most patients recover in about a week.

Source: CBS News/YouTube

Signs of Clinton’s illness have been visible within the past week with the candidate seen to suffer from a fit of coughing in more than one occasion.

In one the above example when campaigning in Cleveland, Clinton struggled to speak for about four minutes, blaming her cough on allergies.

Only a small number of news outlets broadcast reports on Clinton’s cough, but the decision to cover her speaking difficulties was criticised by some within Clinton campaign.

One of her press secretaries even told a news reporter to “get a life” for doing a report on Clinton’s cough.

But talk of Clinton’s general health has been around for much longer than last week with Trump repeatedly stating his doubts about whether she is physically able for the presidency.

His comments have echoed unsubstantiated online theories claims that Clinton may have a brain tumour, Parkinson’s or dementia.

Clinton’s doctor last year released a statement on the candidate’s health in which she stated that she is a “healthy 67-year-old female”. Clinton is now 68 and Trump is 70.

“Mrs. Clinton is a healthy 67-year-old female whose current medical conditions include hypothyroidism and seasonal pollen allergies,” the statement from Clinton’s doctor Lisa Bardack said.

Her past medical history is notable for a deep vein thrombosis in 1998 and in 2009, an elbow fracture in 2009 and a concussion in 2012.

Campaign 2016 Clinton Hillary Clinton has been suffering from more than just a cough. Source: Andrew Harnik/PA Images

The concussion she suffered from occurred from a fall she took when becoming dehydrated due to travelling and a stomach virus.

The letter also stated that Clinton takes blood-thinning medication to lessen the risk of clotting from deep vein thrombosis, a condition linked to long-haul travel. Clinton was found to have suffered from such clotting in the past.

Clinton’s doctor also confirmed that all her screenings from cancer are negative. The letter also went into further details of detail about the regular tests she undergoes.


Campaign 2016 Clinton Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gets into a van after resting follwoing her fall. Source: Andrew Harnik/PA Images

Even though such public medical testimonies would be regarded as being open and transparent in this part of the world, some people in the US argue for candidates to go further and release their entire medical history.

Bill Clinton did so while he was running for the presidency two decades ago, declaring that, “the public has a right to know the condition of the president’s health.”

The argument for full disclosure adheres to the principle that voters should know every possible piece of information on a candidate before making their decision, no matter how embarrassing they may be.

Bill Clinton’s records, for example, showed he had previously had treatment for haemorrhoids.

Oftentimes, the underlying and unsaid argument relates to the chances a candidate could die whilst in office.

John McCain was two years older than Trump is now when he unsuccessfully ran against Barack Obama in 2008. His age and health was discussed during the election.

The counter argument to full transparency on matters of health states that the relative health of a president has little influence on how they actually do their job.

Franklin D. Roosevelt suffered from polio throughout his terms in office and led the US in World War II whilst in a wheelchair. His presidency is regarded as one of the most successful in modern American history.

Transparency works both ways ofcourse and many have pointed to Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, breaking a long-held candidate practice.

Speaking more particularly to this case, Clinton’s fainting episode is actually also relatively common in presidential circles.

In 1992, George H. Bush fainted after vomiting at a state dinner. His son, George W. Bush, also famously lost consciousness after choking on a pretzel.

Furthermore, the argument that the mortality of a US president is relevant to the discussion is perhaps moot considering the constitutional provision that the sitting vice president would step in in such circumstances.

This is of course factored in when voters are judging the would-be vice president on a presidential ticket.

That is also probably the most salient point here. It is ultimately a matter for individual voters to decide what importance they will place on the relative health of an candidate.

Whether they see a person’s well-being as being fundamental to how they do their job and perhaps even if they would think it fair if they were judged in the same way. 

Even politicians are human after all.

Read: Trump on Clinton’s pneumonia: ‘I hope she gets well soon’ >

Read: Clinton rows back on ‘deplorables’ remark after backlash >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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