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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida doctors want more on McCain's health



Sen. John McCain sat in a stately looking office, addressing a national TV audience. "Good evening, my fellow Americans," he said. "I ask you: What should we be looking for in our next president? Certainly, someone who is very, very, very old.”

It was all a joke, played on Saturday Night Live. Yet despite that and other self-deprecating attempts to disarm questions about his age, the Republican presidential nominee faces ongoing scrutiny.

The latest sign: More than 90 doctors in Florida have signed a national petition calling on McCain to fully release his medical records, suggesting that more about his bouts with skin cancer needs to be disclosed.

“If you still want to vote for the guy, that’s fine. But you should know about it,” said Dr. Max B. Rubin, a dermatologist in Delray Beach.

“I don’t want to look to see if he’s taking Viagra,” said Tallahassee orthopedic surgeon Ray Bellamy. “I want to see if there’s strong evidence he’s in good health or not.”

McCain, 72, would be the oldest president to take office if elected in November. His campaign dismissed the petition (which has nearly 2,900 signatures) as a stunt and noted it is driven by a group with ties to the liberal

Questions of health have been a campaign issue since President Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in 1955. In 1995, Republican nominee Bob Dole pre-empted questions by releasing records showing him in fine shape. It was the 73-year-old Dole who was pressuring a much younger and less willing President Bill Clinton to do the same.

The Florida doctors — many who acknowledge they favor Democrat Barack Obama — say they are raising concerns because if something were to happen to McCain, his would-be vice president Sarah Palin would take over.

“It’s frightening to me to think she could be commander in chief,” said Kathryn Price, a family doctor in Sarasota.

The campaign points out that McCain let reporters review nearly 1,200 pages of records this spring and talk with his doctors.

Obama, by contrast, has released a one-page summary. Obama, 47, was given a mostly clean bill of health, but he has been a smoker.

"The arbiters of this election are not demanding the same level of disclosure about Sen. Obama, who’s essentially running on a doctor’s note. I had a harder time getting out of high school gym class," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.

"Sen. Obama has a clean bill of health, as this letter shows," Obama's campaign said in a statement. "With no surgery or hospital stays, the letter represents a complete summary of his doctor visits and medical records for the past two decades."

Questions persist, in part due to the way McCain released the records. He allowed a select group of reporters to view the hundreds of pages, but journalists were limited to three hours and could not make copies.

Few medical experts doubt McCain’s vigor. He has kept up an intense campaign schedule. He often points to his 96-year-old mother as evidence of his vitality.

At issue is his four cases of malignant melanoma, beginning in 1993. In 2000, he was diagnosed with Stage IIa melanoma (Stage IV is the worst) on his left temple, and he now bears the scar from that operation.

It is generally held that the survival rate 10 years after a Stage II diagnosis is 65 percent, and improves more after seven years. McCain has been cancer free for eight years, his doctors said.

As for his puffy left cheek, doctors have said it is simply because his chewing muscle is more prominent as a result of the 2000 surgery, and it does not indicate the presence of cancer.

Rubin said information from what McCain released is not enough to answer questions about the cancer’s ability to spread, or metastasize. “Anybody who is running for president should have a totally transparent health record,” he said.

Like other Florida doctors, Rubin was asked to sign the petition by Brave New Films, a group that has produced short videos detailing negative aspects of McCain’s life. Earlier this month, the group purchased a full-page ad in the New York Times naming all the doctors.

-- By Alex Leary, Times staff writer


[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 8:55am]


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