Monday, September 22, 2003

Indiana Gov.'s death raises questions about candidates' health

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - Gov. Frank O'Bannon's death from a stroke has raised the question of whether Indiana's six candidates for governor should disclose their medical histories before Election Day.

O'Bannon's aides have said there was no advance warning of his illness, but his massive stroke and subsequent death Sept. 13 shows that one person's health can reshape the state's political landscape.

The Indianapolis Star contacted the six gubernatorial campaigns about each candidate's health, but only one provided a letter signed by the candidate's doctor vouching for his health.

Another - Democrat Vi Simpson - was the only candidate who disclosed requested vital statistics.

"The public has a right to know if a candidate for governor is physically able to perform the duties of the job," said Eric Miller, one of four Republican gubernatorial candidates, who issued a letter from his physician.

In refusing to disclose his records, Petersburg Mayor Randy Harris, another GOP candidate, said he thought an individual's right to privacy trumped whatever desire the public has to know about a candidate's health.

"Everywhere else in today's society we're creating privacy acts and laws," Harris said.

Other candidates refused to comment or could not be reached.

Whether the public has a right to know about a politician's health has been an issue mostly in national campaigns.

Former U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts ran for president in 1992 and died of cancer five years later. During the campaign, he said his cancer was in remission.

Medical questions arose again last year during Janet Reno's campaign for governor of Florida after she fainted during a speech.

Douglas Zipes, a cardiologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, believes the public has a right to know about a candidate's health before Election Day.

"If you are a public figure, then that puts a requirement on you that is different from a private citizen," Zipes said.

David Orentlicher, a professor at the Indiana University Center for Bioethics and a Democratic state representative, said that when it comes to a politician's medical history, the office and the length of its term must be considered.

"The executive branch is controlled by one person, ... so there's more authority and the authority is more concentrated," he said.

Republican candidate Bob Parker declined the request, while Republican Mitch Daniels and Democrat Joe Andrew said they needed more time.

Through her doctor, Simpson, a state senator, reported a cholesterol level of 185 and a blood pressure of 104 over 64.

A cholesterol level below 200 and blood pressure less than 120 over 80 is considered healthy.

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