Is the health of the candidates and the president still a taboo in France?

Paris, Monday April 11, 2022 – It is May 3, 2017. In a few hours, a representative of the extreme right will be on air for the first time in a second-round debate in a presidential election. Exhausted after a long campaign, Marine le Pen leaves in the background the preparation of the debate between the two rounds. It must be said that the 48-year-old former lawyer, known for her cathode bursts, seems to have mastered the exercise perfectly.

But at 10:30 that morning, it was the candidate’s body that gave warning signs. According to a lengthy survey published by
the world in 2017 in this famous debate, Marine le Pen is the victim of an ophthalmic migraine. ” I can’t see anything with my left eye! » she panicked at her ophthalmologist. The candidate sees blurry, with zebra highlights. So much so that the question begs: Can we still cancel the debate? “.

That same night, Marine le Pen gives a performance that is unanimously considered disastrous. It is true that the approximations and the changes of position on the issue of leaving the euro have greatly contributed to this sense of disaster. But in the form, it is also a feeling of physical fever that manifests itself. A few weeks before the debate, the health status of the candidate for ” excuse » this catastrophic performance. A subject that is no longer taboo.

an old taboo

For a long time, raising the question of the state of health of a candidate or a president seemed unthinkable. In the name of the right to privacy, the public has often been kept out of information about the physical state of rulers or candidates. When in April 1964, General de Gaulle underwent surgery for a prostate adenoma, the Elysee refused to comment.

The secrecy is sometimes maintained even when the president finds himself apparently unable to carry out his duties. Georges Pompidou, suffering from Waldenström’s disease, multiplied the false health reports denouncing simple ” flu “. It was not until February 7, 1974 that a first official bulletin mentions a ” benign lesion of vascular origin, located in the anorectal region, and intermittently hyperalgesic (not to mention Waldenström’s disease!). He died on April 2, 1974.

François Mitterrand’s cancer was hidden from the French during his re-election campaign in 1988. Yet by the end of his second seven-year term, the socialist president was barely able to fully exercise his duties. According to his adviser Anne Lauvergeon, the president, at the end of the seven-year term, stayed in bed for a few days, and only put on a suit to ensure his meetings and Charles Pasqua had believed him dead during a Council of Ministers.

In 2005, if the public was immediately informed of the hospitalization of Jacques Chirac due to a cerebrovascular accident, the bulletins that arrived from the Elysée only sought to minimize the consequences of his stroke. A few hours before his hospitalization, the president had made a confusing speech before representatives of the Principality of Andorra.

Covid, a transparency revolution?

The turn of the century did not prevent some presidents from hiding information about their health status. The (admittedly benign) prostate operation suffered by François Hollande in 2011, shortly before his declaration of candidacy, was not made public until 2013.

It should be said that no article of the Constitution obliges the president to carry out any exercise of transparency. In 2017, François Fillon and Benoit Hamon joined the
doctor’s diary Publish an annual health newsletter.

Emmanuel Macron, had invoked medical secrecy to oppose any regular publication but would make it public” any information that may have consequences for (she) ability to lead the country “. In 2012, Marine le Pen certified ” be made of titanium “and to have” an excellent composition “.

But Covid-19 seems to have shuffled the cards for transparency on a global scale. In April and then in October 2020, the British and American public were immediately informed of the health status of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, hit hard by the disease.

In December 2020, Emmanuel Macron, affected by Covid-19, staged himself on the occasion of a video by keeping the public informed about his state of health. Several health bulletins are communicated by Elysée indicating ” fatigue, cough, pain that do not prevent you from fulfilling your duties “.

The health (of the candidates) at the center of the campaign?

If the issue of health was present in the presidential campaign, the issue of health was also at the center of the candidates’ logistics.

In an episode of the podcast/podcast political service, Philippe Corbé, a political journalist for BFM TV, insists that the candidates were not spared fatigue during the long months of campaigning.

In addition to Valérie Pécresse’s long week of absence linked to Covid, rumors have successively denounced the ” kick of Yannick Jadot, Anne Hidalgo’s weight loss or Emmanuel Macron’s exhaustion at the start of the war in Ukraine.

Transparency, for what?

But is there any interest in exercising transparency when it is not likely to be controlled or challenged? As early as December 1981, President François Mitterrand allegedly asked his physician, Dr. Gubler, to falsify his health reports. That same year, the president said that ” the essential problem is that the health problems must not be such as to impair function. This is the moral that a politician must respect “.


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