Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Views & Reviews Personal View

Let us see the medical records of future world leaders

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 07 November 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2486

Rapid Response:

How much privacy should a world leader have ?

One must agree with Lord Owen that if a world leader has a
significant illness that might impair his or her abilities, judgement, or
competence, this is a seriously risky situation. The risk is enhanced if
the illness is kept secret.

On the other hand, it seems unreasonable to insist that public
figures - politicians, film stars, writers - have no right to personal
privacy. I agree with Mr. Di Chiara that their intimate medical records
should not be made available to the general public.

What is the best compromise ? The individuals themselves should not
be required to announce the details of their medical records. Their
doctors should not be required to make public statements about such
details, because this would constitute a serious breach of the
doctor/patient relationship. Most members of the general public are not
equipped to evaluate detailed medical information if it were made public.
The public interest and personal privacy would be best served if the
medical problems - or lack of them - of a president or prime minister were
reviewed in confidence by a small group of independent medical experts who
could identify any threat to the public interest and make appropriate but
also confidential recommendations to the vice president, deputy prime
minister, or cabinet. Not only the electorate, but also the world leader
concerned, could be greatly benefited by this approach.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

19 November 2008
Alexander SD Spiers
Professor of Medicine (retired).