Hillary’s Health: Conspiracy or Concern?

U.S. News reports that Hillary Clinton has been traversing the country, making speeches, raising money and launching very serious criticisms against Republican Donald Trump as she mounts a typically exhausting presidential general election campaign.

The response of Hillary-phobes? Clearly, she must be sick.

Fox News, the Drudge Report, and a slew of conservative or conspiracy-theory themed sites on the internet are raising questions about Clinton’s medical fitness to be president, pointing ominously to scenes of Clinton tripping on a stair, laughing (“inappropriately,” one suspicious doctor says), hesitating in the middle of a sentence in a speech or having an unidentified man stand close to her despite not looking like a Secret Service agent.

The problem, of course, is that none of the deeply concerned observers has actually examined Clinton, whose personal physician last year released a statement calling the former secretary of state in “excellent health and fit to serve as president of the United States.”

But that hasn’t stopped a somewhat stealth campaign to disqualify Clinton for the job by calling into question whether she can actually do the day-to-day job.

Fox’s Sean Hannity dedicated an entire week to the matter, pointing to an exchange with reporters in which Clinton, Hannity said, did a “twitching thing,” followed by a “violent, violent, repetitive jerking of the head.” So jarred by the behavior, the Fox host said, Associated Press reporter Lisa Lerer “got scared” and pulled back. Lerer, in both her Twitter feed and a first-person explanation, says she was not the slightest bit scared (and that Fox didn’t bother to ask her if she was).

Another photo shows the 69-year-old Clinton being assisted after apparently slipping on a step – “the latest evidence,” the site warns, of Clinton’s frailty or instability. Problem is, that photo is not recent; it was taken in February.

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Dr. Ben Carson, a former GOP presidential candidate himself, wouldn’t declare Clinton’s behavior proof of any specific ailment but did note that “as a person gets older, the number of medical conditions that we have to watch for increases,” and that Clinton should reveal her full medical records.

Jane M. Orient, a medical doctor and executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group opposing President Barack Obama’s health care reforms and other Democratic-leaning policies, is convinced Clinton has something wrong with her.

“A lot of people have remarked about some of the oddities in the speeches she has given,” Orient says. And what about that man – the one with the “African-sounding name” as identified by “people on the internet?” That man appears to be a neurologist, Orient says, acknowledging that she does not know if the Internet ID of the man is accurate. But “he looks like someone very concerned about the candidate,” Orient says and has “been seen carrying something” Orient believes may be some kind of medical device.

Dr. Art Caplan, head of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine, is horrified at the arms-length diagnoses and speculation – whether its Trump opponents wondering aloud if the bombastic nominee has narcissistic personality disorder or whether Clinton has brain damage.

“I think it’s morally pernicious and irresponsible to diagnose anyone for anything you haven’t examined personally. It is unprofessional. It is pointless. And it gives a false impression that somehow medicine is a version of psychic power – you can do it from a distance,” Caplan says. “I think it’s just wrong, flat out utterly wrong, to do it,” he adds.

Where does the sick talk come from? Clinton fell in December of 2012 – the result of dehydration from the flu, her doctor, Lisa Bardack, says – and suffered a concussion. Bardack declared the candidate completely recovered from the incident but notes that Clinton still takes a daily anti-coagulation drug as a precaution.

Skeptics are, well, skeptical.

“She took a long time to recover from a concussion. She could have residual brain damage as many people with that history have,” Orient warns. During Clinton’s 11 hours of testimony before Congress on the Benghazi matter – an episode Clinton’s backers point to as an example of her physical endurance – Clinton laughed at length and inappropriately, Orient says, suggesting she was not quite right.

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Orient says she can’t make a diagnosis without examining Clinton but would do so if the former globe-trotting cabinet member were her patient. And Orient says it’s not the same as suspecting Trump of being clinically narcissistic, since that diagnosis is based on things Trump says that some people don’t like, she adds.

Trump himself has raised questions about Clinton’s vigor, repeatedly claiming Clinton went home to sleep after giving a speech. His own physician, Harold N. Bornstein, released a statement with fewer clinical details than those Bardack provided about Clinton but insisting that Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” That assessment draws some skepticism from Caplan and others who note the 70-year-old Trump eats fried foods and does not appear to follow a regular exercise routine (as George W. Bush and Barack Obama have).

The only thing that will resolve the matter, Caplan says, is an independent board of doctors who can examine presidential candidates and their running mates and deliver impartial conclusions.

“It’s not that there isn’t a real issue of health risks of candidates, and no one is saying you should have to pass a physical to run,” Caplan says. But “it would be nice to have independent information beyond their own doctors or witch doctors who are assessing the health of candidates on television and pronouncing diagnoses.”

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