From the Minister’s Desk — November 2020

The inspiration for this column comes from the op-ed column in the New York Times by moral philosopher Sasha Mudd (Oct. 10, 2020, p. A25), “No Joy in the President’s Illness.” I will not try to summarize the lengthy column or to argue with it, but it did stimulate me to do some thinking. Early in the piece was this statement: “To be clear, I am not debating whether it is morally wrong to wish for the president’s death. It is wrong. Full stop.”

The president appears to have received treatment quite different from that of others diagnosed to have Covid-19: frequent testing, travel by helicopter to the hospital (and not to the hospital closest to the White House), a whole team of doctors, treatment with a variety of drugs, presumably more than the typical patient would receive, including one that was still in the experimental stage. Did his status or the national interest justify this special treatment? That’s not clear, at least to me. The use of a drug not yet approved seems especially questionable. There is, presumably, a reason it hasn’t been approved yet — it hasn’t yet been shown to be both safe and effective. Then there was the “joy ride” he had while still a hospital patient. That was special treatment. Was he entitled to it? It endangered quite a few people. And he left the hospital and returned to the White House earlier than was medically indicated.

The disease itself and the treatment for it could bring about changes in intellectual, emotional, and ethical competence. Would not it have been prudent to transfer the powers of the presidency to the vice president? If his condition had worsened, at what point would a transfer have been made, and whose decision would it have been? The public has received very limited and incomplete information about his condition or his treatment. Shouldn’t there be full disclosure? Patients generally are entitled to confidentiality, but here I would think that the public interest would outweigh the privacy interest.

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution (1967) provides for the transfer of the powers and duties of the president to the vice president in case of disability, either by the president him- or herself or by a declaration of the vice president and the cabinet. As far as I am aware, no plan for such a transfer was made.

The president has suggested more than once that if he is not declared reelected he may remain in office nevertheless. And there are armed groups apparently ready to take action on his behalf. What should the response be — of Congress, of the Supreme Court and other courts, of the Justice Department, of the Secret Service, of White House staff, of the public, of you and me?

Love, Dave

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