Sunday, May 20, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Young's health was a public concern

At the time of his death last month, Rep. C.W. Bill Young was a man of immense power in Washington and had been unopposed or had easily won re-election every two years since the 1970s. Young, 82, served more than four decades in the House and was the longest-serving Republican in Congress. It was no secret that he battled health problems in recent years. What was not known was that he had been diagnosed five years ago with multiple myeloma — a cancer of the plasma cells found in bone marrow. Young's widow, Beverly, made that disclosure just last week to the Tampa Bay Times' Washington bureau chief, Alex Leary.

The Indian Shores Republican won re-election against credible opponents in 2010 and 2012 without disclosing to his constituents his cancer diagnosis and treatment regimen.

Young was hardly the first politician to be less than forthcoming about his health. Had the public known the full range of John F. Kennedy's health problems, including Addison's disease, and the prescription drugs he relied on, it is entirely possible he would not have won the Democratic nomination for president in 1960.

Former Massachusetts Democratic senator and presidential candidate Paul Tsongas also was less than forthcoming about his bout with cancer, which eventually claimed his life. To this day, the full extent of President Franklin Roosevelt's health issues are not fully known. And even though he was barely sentient, South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond's aides insisted he remained sharp as a tack even as he was virtually a full-time hospital resident at 100.

It is an age-old question in politics: How much information about the health of a candidate for high office or an elected officeholder does the public have a right to know? Apparently not very much.

It would seem Young followed the example established by corporate America. Securities and Exchange Commission rules about top executives revealing critical health issues are murky at best. The SEC only requires the release of information that is "material," which allows a broad interpretation. That may explain why Apple's Steve Jobs didn't think it was "material" enough to his shareholders to divulge he was in the late stages of pancreatic cancer.

Mrs. Young said in an interview Monday that her husband considered revealing his cancer. She said he decided against it after his doctors assured him he had responded well to treatment and that his ability to do the job would not be affected. Fair enough. But didn't his constituents have a right to the same information?

"Why?" Mrs. Young asked, noting that her husband was under no responsibility to disclose if he had a hernia, for example. Then she added this about her husband's cancer diagnosis: "There's no cure for it. They can treat it. He took medication."

However — and this is the delicate part, so soon after Young's death — the multiple myeloma did impact Young's ability to serve. After all, he died less than halfway into what he announced days before his death would be his last term. As Leary reported, the cancer complicated Young's broken hip, which had landed him in the hospital and caused excruciating pain. Because of the cancer, Young's brittle bones could not support a medical pin.

Since surviving a 1970 plane crash, Young endured decades of back problems. The advent of bone marrow-related cancer exacerbated the problems. Did his constituents have a right to know?

You might argue Jessica Ehrlich had a right to know. In 2012, the Democrat captured 42.4 percent of the vote against the incumbent's 57.6 percent. Even with the 15-point spread, it was the closest any challenger had come to Young in decades.

Suppose Young had disclosed his cancer diagnosis? Would the vote have been narrower? If the vote had been closer, would Ehrlich have been in a stronger position after Young's death to run again instead of being forced to step aside for Alex Sink? We'll never know.

All politicians love to extol the judgment of their constituents.

Young ably served his district, his state and his country for decades. He had a reserve of enormous goodwill with voters in Florida and colleagues in Washington. He could have leveled with his constituents, realizing that at the end of the day he had nothing to fear in trusting the voters to make a fully informed decision about who could best represent them in Congress.

Comments
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

It’s a safe bet Florida will get caught up in the frenzy to legalize wagering on sports following the U.S. Supreme Court opinion this week that lifted a federal ban. Struggling horse and dog tracks would love a new line of business, and state l...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/16/18