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The Problem of Incapacitated Heads of State

by Christopher Chantrill
March 15, 2006 at 4:06 pm

WHAT DO WE do if the President is incapacitated? Or a drunk, or a depressive?

That’s the topic of an interesting essay by David Owen in QJ Med. Lord Owen was British Foreign Secretary in the Labour Government from 1977 to 1979.

We all know that President Wilson was completely incapacitated by a stroke in 1919. But did you know that President Mitterand of France was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1981 and became almost incapacitated later on in his second term as president? No, you probably don’t because they kept it pretty secret.

And Prime Minister Anthony Eden of Great Britain was fueled with amphetamines throughout the Suez Crisis of 1956.

What should we do about presidential incapacitation, and how much secrecy is acceptable?

Winston Churchill, of course, was a depressive and endured many attacks of the “black dog.” He had a heart attack in the White House in 1941. And what about his drinking?

In May 1953, Churchill as Prime Minister was standing in for Eden as Foreign Secretary weeks before he had a very serious stroke. A diplomat from the Foreign Office records lunching with him and his Private Secretary, ‘The lunch lasted for three and a quarter hours. A varied and noble procession of wines with which I could not keep pace—champagne, port, brandy, cointreau; Winston drank a great deal of all and ended with two glasses of whisky and soda’. It is hard to imagine functioning on such an input, but he had been used to it for over fifty years.

What should be the rules regarding the health of the head of government, and when should we step in and replace them?

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Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.


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©2007 Christopher Chantrill