Diagnosing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump From a Distance

Sep 20, 2016

Credit Sol Danmeri / Flickr

I’ve never really gotten into gossip publications or TV shows. I can kind of understand the appeal—the desire to live vicariously through the rumored celebrations and, perhaps more so, the rumored failures of celebrities. Similarly, I don’t really care to see the medical records of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Maybe if I could understand the reasoning behind seeing them, I’d have a different view.

The way I see it, there are two reasons why their medical records might be worth looking at: if they have a terminal condition and were expected to die within the next couple of years, or if they have a disease (e.g., Alzheimer’s) or disorder (e.g., a personality disorder) that would directly affect their cognitive abilities to handle the judgments required in office. But medical records only provide insight into these two areas if the records include direct and definitive diagnoses related to either of these areas. In these narrowly defined circumstances, Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s medical records would be beneficial to be released to the public. But there is real risk with such a release as well.

Medical records are not limited to things like diagnoses, prognoses, and treatment recommendations. Because medical care is an ongoing activity—medical records are not a simple listing of conditions and treatments—they will include observations and possible diagnoses that have not been confirmed or, in some cases, even tested for yet. When a physician sees a patient, they do not know what details will be most relevant at the next appointment or if some acute event (e.g., a car accident) should happen in the future. Accordingly, physicians and other health care providers often put things in medical records that are hints and possibilities more than judgments or diagnoses. 

When these incomplete possibilities are released to the public, they will be interpreted by many individuals who have three exacerbating characteristics: 1) they are not trained in the appropriate areas of medical practice, 2) they are unfamiliar with the norms of medical records and their uses, and 3) they are not looking into these for the best interests of the patients. 

Combining incomplete information with a lack of expertise and uncalibrated judgment threatens harm to any sense of good judgment in this election.

Of course, this does not address the concerns raised by theorists on both the right and left that Hillary Clinton is suffering from some terminal disease or that Donald Trump actually has a personality disorder. But of course, asking for the release of medical records will not satisfy these groups either. Such theorists have a proclivity to fall victim to the confirmation bias, and even revel in it. The release of medical records is unlikely to quell the hints and allegations, and may actually harm the judgment of those trying to make an informed and rational decision. 

Abraham Schwab is a Fort Wayne associate professor of philosophy and medical ethicist.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff, management or board of Northeast Indiana Public Radio. If you want to join the conversation, head over to our Facebook page and comment on the post featuring this column.