Health of John McCain (2008)

Introduction Laws Sources Problems Invasive Melanoma Discussion A Plan Bibliography

Legal Background

The US Constitution contains no health standards to become President (nor even health standards to remain President). The Constitution's only requirements for the Presidency pertain to birthplace, age, and residency (1).

Thus, Presidential candidates today are not required to disclose health information or to submit to an official physical examination. Any medical disclosure is purely voluntary. But the tradition, since the 1950s, is for candidates to disclose at least some medical information.

Unfortunately, there is no way to know if such disclosures are truthful or complete (2). Even when a candidate allows his physician to speak, it should be remembered that the physician is honor-bound (and perhaps legally bound) to say only what the candidate allows.

Occasionally, a candidate or President will explicitly instruct his physician to speak freely. The praiseworthy examples of Dwight Eisenhower after his heart attack (3) and Ronald Reagan when running for office (4) are few and far between.

Editorial: The absence of an official medical evaluation for Presidential candidates leads to a curious irony. Every member of the US Armed Forces must undergo a medical examination before -- and during -- military service... except for the Commander-in-Chief (5).

It seems hardly rational that the law insists on a physical examination for the 19-year-old Army private whose duty may include cleaning toliets, but omits any formal medical evaluation for a 78-year-old whose hand rests on the nuclear button (6).


1. In 1951 the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution added term limits.
2. The only exceptions are the few cases where history has shown that deliberately misleading statements and/or outright lies were issued (e.g. John Kennedy in 1960, Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and perhaps earlier).
3. See also: Lasby, Clarence G. Eisenhower's Heart Attack: How Ike Beat Heart Disease and Held onto the Presidency. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1997. (ISBN 0-7006-0822-2 @
4. Altman, Lawrence K. "Reagan vows to resign if doctor in White House finds him unfit." New York Times. 1980 June 11, page A1.
5. Again, it is tradition only that the President undergo an annual physical examination. There is no requirement for such examinations.
6. Ronald Reagan was 77 years and 11 months old when he left office.