Prime Minister Thompson’s health is his own business

Dear Barbados Free Press

On a point of principle, the Prime Minister’s health is nobody’s business but his own.

I refer to Julius Gittens’ article “Tell Us More – P.M” (online edition of “Barbados Today”, July 6, 2010, and his blog of same date).  Mr. Gittens states that he thinks that “while the PM is getting great medical advice he might not be getting – or taking – the best communication advice.   He is the prime minister and the public have a right to know as much as they possibly can, both for his own benefit and for ours”.  Accordingly, the P.M. should give us “full, frank disclosure”.

Presumably, Mr. Gittens refers to whatever diagnosis, or diagnoses, may have been made of the PM’s medical condition.   I respectfully dissent for the following reasons.

As a general rule, the PM is under no legal, political or even moral obligation to disclose the nature of his illness.  We did not elect him as political leader and P.M. because his health, physical or mental, was better than Mr. Arthur’s at the time. Despite the fact that he is PM, Mr. Thompson still retains his right of privacy.   Since when did the public’s “right to know” (per Mr. Gittens) supersede, trump or outweigh his right to privacy?

And, while we are at it, what at any rate is the basis of the public’s “right to know” the intimate details of Mr. Thompson’s health: and do we also have a “right to know” the Governor General’s health?  The Chief Justice’s, or the members of the judiciary who sit in judgment on us?   The Archbishop’s, who is the spiritual leader of many of us?  Where does Mr. Gittens draw the line?

Indeed, based on the physician/patient privilege, even his doctors cannot disclose the PM’s medical condition without his express consent.   In promising during his initial interview of May 14, 2010, to give periodic reports on his medical condition, the PM arguably may in his natural generosity have spontaneously and inadvertently waived his privilege under the stress of his illness and questionable advice.    But, even this is doubtful, to the extent that he also entered the caveat that “we would make whatever information is necessary available”. In his more recent statement, he correctly indicated that there was nothing to report.

While US presidential tradition and an investigative press in the US may seem to require statements about the President’s health from time to time, that is not the Barbadian tradition. In this vein, Barbadian political leaders and the Barbadian public need not be mere American mimic men.  The Barbadian public never knew the late Sir Grantley Adams’ health issues while he was Premier.  Nor did it know the late Dr. Cummings’ health status.  Nor did it ever know Mr. J.M.G.M. “Tom” Adams’ health condition while he was PM.  Nor yet again did it know Mr. Barrow’s health condition at any time, while he was in office.   Yet again, we did not know the health condition of Messrs. Sandiford and Arthur, Mr. Thompson’s immediate predecessors in office.  The rules of engagement are therefore different.  To posit such a requirement in Mr. Thompson’s case would therefore set a dangerous precedent, which would essentially violate his individual right to privacy, absent express waiver on his part.

We live in a world where the passage of time almost invariably brings with it the ravages of illness and disease, where diabetes, high blood pressure, cataracts, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and so on are all too common place.  Yet, which one of us would wish the most intimate details of his or her medical history to be bruited about to all and sundry?  What therefore is the authority for requiring that the P.M. to disclose his medical condition to all and sundry, to be bantered about, even globally, and spirited around the worldwide web?  What practical, useful purpose would that serve?  Would it aid Mr. Thompson’s recovery in any way, which must be his first priority?

It cannot be that there is some sort of legal requirement for the P.M. to make such disclosure; nor can it be a universal best political practice for sitting PMs to discourse on their health, even if ailing.   For, historically, we have had Presidents, Prime Ministers and Justices, who have been physically or mentally incompetent while in office, and many have never made the “frank, full disclosure” your columnist would seem to require.

As to the public’s “right to know as much as they possibly can”, it is in some cases perhaps only prurient if not partisan political interest which fuels such inquisitiveness, eventual gossip and feigned concern.  I do not say that this is so in the case of Mr. Gittens; but on a point of principle there appears nothing in law, logic, history, or common sense which dictates that Prime Minister Thompson abandon his right to privacy and self-determination in such matters and disclose in any further detail his medical condition, good, bad or indifferent.    Our right to privacy in matters of health can never be in dispute.   Our health can never, and should never be the substance of public opinion, or even the grist of the public rumour mill.

Finally, most reasonable persons would say that it is enough to know that the PM is ill, and to sincerely wish him a speedy and complete recovery.   I therefore see no basis on which the P.M, ailing as he is, need say anything more.   Indeed, to say more as Mr. Gittens requires of him might well be characterized as impolitic, injudicious, unnecessary and unwise, and to persist in compound error.

Sincerely,

Dr. Caleb Pilgrim
Attorney-at-Law

23 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Health, Politics

23 responses to “Prime Minister Thompson’s health is his own business

  1. With all due respect

    Regardless what has happened in the past, the DLP promised a new age of transparency and accountability.

    The economy of Barbados involves hundreds of milllions of Dollars a year flowing through its treasury.

    Mr Thompson is the duly elected head of this country.

    He is not, nor should be, a passive symbolic Monarch.

    Leave that position to the, well to do, former Prime Minister, Owen Arthur.

  2. Duppy Lizard

    @ With all due respect – yes, there should be transparency and accountability concerning matters relating to the State not the health of an elected official, regardless of the office they hold.

  3. ellebee

    While the intimate details of his/her condition could remain private, the people of any country should be informed of the nature of their leader’s ill health and kept up-to-date with the current situation. Could someone remind us of another head of state who was obviously ill and on extended sick leave and the people of that country did not know what diagnosed illness their leader was suffering from?

  4. Masta Rasta

    Obviously written by an Attorney, does anyone need more evidence of the contempt these people have for the Barbadian electorate?

    Barbadians ought not to take advice from someone who has been cited for professional misconduct by a state disciplinary authority in the USA.

    Almost everywhere else in the world the public is informed when the head of state is suffering from a serious illness. It is not like the public wants know their every illness, we don’t need to know when they have a cold or stump a toe but on serious health issues, the ones which prevent them from performing the task for which they were elected, the public has a right to know and should not be made to have to ask or speculate.

    The Prime Minister of Barbados is clearly quite ill, we’ve all seen him deteriorate before our eyes in a very short period of time. We hope and pray for the best for our Prime Minister and in return he should bring them into his confidence.

  5. ??

    Dr. Pilgrim is entitled to his opinion, and from a legal perspective I have no doubt he is correct in his position. However, this goes beyond the legal, this IS a man Barbados elected to lead us at a most difficult time… he is the person who was the spearhead of the victory, he is the person in whom many Barbadians had confidence to pull our country through tough times and his followers were (are) not, in many peoples view, of the calibre to lead the country.

    The health of the leader of our country, like it or not (lump it?), is the publics business and Mr Thompson by choice placed himself from youth in the public life of this country and in the position to be elected our leader. he was not pressured into the position…..

  6. Verdana

    First I am very sorry for what happening to the Barbados PM. I really hope he can get well soon.

    In my opinion the Prime Minister of any Country is not obliged to disclosure the nature of illness is going trough BUT should advise the electorate/citizens about the possible lenght (in terms of time obv.) of recovery.
    Based on that some choices should be made.

  7. Donald Duck Esq,

    I am of the view that the Governed need to be aware of the state of health of those who govern them. Look at the USA. The americans get to know the finest details of the medicals taken by their presidents.

    We need to know as it results in alot of jostling for position within the governing party.

  8. I would want to know the Head of State’s health if it can impinge on the effective running of the country.

    I would also think it significant since it can have a bearing on investor’s climate and diplomatic relations – conversely: if the PM broke his leg, I am sure the Press Aide and other ancillaries would think nothing of referring to the media that the leader of the day suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and a hairline on their femur, due to their slipping on surplus water from a plant spilling on to the marble causeway, etc.

    The same way you can relay that, then this is of equal interest!

  9. whistling frog

    Regarding the Prime Ministers Health,there seems to be much debate of whether the Populace of Barbados should or should not be kept informed as to every single detail of his illness whether it be positive or negative.I really cant say if it is necessary or not but history has shown that even in death the public have sometimes through necessity been kept in the dark in order that inner Political manoeuvering be allowed to proceed unaffected by any unswaying public opinion.

  10. Ddreamer

    Instead of worrying about what the PM has and if it should be kept private.The major cause for concern is the country’s economic health and the methods to improve the situation in Barbados. Would you not want to collect from your insurance to pay for yor own medical bills? Get the picture.

  11. Anon

    Sometimes leadership in an organization, or a country means putting the wants and needs of that establishment above one’s own wants and needs.

    The basis of good leadership is honorable character and *selfless* service to your organization. This is the price one pays to be a leader sometimes. That is why all persons are not cut out to lead, because the price can be sometimes high.

    What makes a person want to follow a leader? People want to be guided by those they respect and who have a clear sense of direction. A sense of direction is achieved by conveying a strong vision of the future.

    If the PM is in bad health, and one is uncertain whether he will have to retire from the chores of politics, how can there be any clear sense of direction and stability as to where our future will take us?

    Many have invested into the vision of the PM, and for him to retire prematurely would be reason for concern.

    The Dr. spoke of precedent. But what sort of precedent is being set when a leader of a nation which has been recently prescribed by Moody’s of a credit rating fall, to go on sick leave without a hint of what the matter might be.

    When one is a leader one should really be an “employee” of the people who elected you. Which one of us would have an employee say to us, I am ailing and will be taking two months sick leave, without further explanation?

    The Dr. made mention of former leaders who escaped the concerns being expressed at the illness of the current PM. But one wonders if any of them had taken two months sick leave from leadership of the island. I also wonder if any of them might have been visibly sick that Barbadians might have expressed their concerns. The answer is no.

    If I might take the reader over to some sister isles, Mr. Patrick Manning suffered cancer of the kidney, and he was visibly ill. The people of T&T knew he was sick, and that he was going to Cuba to have the kidney removed.

    We knew in 1995 when former T&T PM Basdeo Panday underwent angioplastry surgery. We knew in 2008 when his wife underwent heart surgery at a London hospital.

    We knew in 2007 that Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent due to an accident had a problem with his leg and underwent surgery in Cuba to make necessary corrections. There are also other examples of other leaders in the Caribbean informing the electorate of their ill health.

    So as the good Dr. who mentioned the word precedent. What precedent is being set in Barbados when the PM can jump ship without much explanation? Is your recourse that the law does not ask that he divulge any reasons? Surely the top of the line doctors should have some sort of a prognosis. What are the chances of recovery? Will the PM have to resign? Surely all hope hasn’t been thrown to the wind, because he hasn’t.

    Won’t it be best for the country that we have some idea in order to put the rumor mill at bay? I’m sure the Dr. understands that the reason some ailments carry a stigma is because of a lack of a clear understanding of the situation.

    Therefore a clear understanding of a situation can put many concerns to rest.

  12. Caleb M. Pilgrim

    Any argument rises and falls on its own merit. The issue here is whether a sitting Prime Minister has a duty to disclose further specific information concerning the nature of his illness. Your readers should note the following pertinent facts.

    FACT: No previous Barbadian Premier or Prime Minister has ever made, or has been required to make, any such disclosure(s) to the public relating to his health.

    FACT: Even in the case of the late P.M, Mr. J.M.G.M. “Tom” Adams who suddenly and tragically passed in office at the relatively young age of 53, the public did not know his exact health condition before or after, and indeed to this day.

    FACT: In health related matters, there is a well established common law privilege, a duty of confidentiality between doctor and patient; as with lawyer and client, priest and penitent and so on.

    FACT: Mr. Thompson enjoys such a privilege with respect to his medical information, even if he is Prime Minister. (By way of example, it was only last year that the Crown in the UK declined to prosecute a doctor who had allegedly hacked into Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s medical records, essentially violating Brown’s privilege and his right to privacy).

    FACT: There is no Barbados Freedom of Information Act, or any other applicable legislation, and if any such were enacted, it would necessarily exempt, if not severely restrict public disclosure of privileged medical information for Mr. Thompson and every other Barbadian citizen.

    FACT: Nothing has so fundamentally changed over the last fifty (50) years (1960 – 2010) in the Barbados political, legal or constitutional landscape to warrant further intrusion into any PM’s personal medical records, or by extension those of our political leaders, i.e. current or future members of Executive, or even members of Parliament.

    For some bloggers who responded, the issue is partly whether there can be continuity in execution and implementation of the Government’s programmes. Will/can the Government’s programmes be kept on stream, as with previous administrations? Mr. Thompson has expressed to all and sundry his confidence in the Deputy Prime Minister and the team he leads. There is nothing to indicate that, as with previous administrations, there would not be continuity in execution of the Government’s programmes.

    There is therefore no need for Mr. Thompson to further discuss or disclose unless he personally chooses to waive his right to his private medical information. He is of course free to do so, at any time. Regardless of what he says, however, there may well be, in the inimitable Barbadian tradition, further rumour, gossip, innuendo and speculation, although he has said enough as to his condition. Like any reasonable person in the circumstances, his major preoccupation must be his recovery. Rather than prolong the discussion, his Government as he well knows must, pending his return, still get on with the People’s Business, e.g. the economy, health care, jobs, agricultural and land policy, environmental matters, and upholding the Rule of Law.

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Caleb M. Pilgrim
    Attorney-at-law

  13. @ Dr Caleb M. Pilgrim;

    Viz. {Slightly modified}

    FACT #1: No previous Barbadian Premier or Prime Minister has ever made, or has been required to make, any such disclosure(s) to the public relating to his health.

    FACT #2: Even in the case of the late P.M, Mr. J.M.G.M. “Tom” Adams who suddenly and tragically passed in office at the relatively young age of 53, the public did not know his exact health condition before or after, and indeed to this day.

    FACT #3: In health related matters, there is a well established common law privilege, a duty of confidentiality between doctor and patient; as with lawyer and client, priest and penitent and so on.

    FACT #4: Mr. Thompson enjoys such a privilege with respect to his medical information, even if he is Prime Minister. (By way of example, it was only last year that the Crown in the UK declined to prosecute a doctor who had allegedly hacked into Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s medical records, essentially violating Brown’s privilege and his right to privacy).

    FACT #5: There is no Barbados Freedom of Information Act, or any other applicable legislation, and if any such were enacted, it would necessarily exempt, if not severely restrict public disclosure of privileged medical information for Mr. Thompson and every other Barbadian citizen.

    FACT #6: Nothing has so fundamentally changed over the last fifty (50) years (1960 – 2010) in the Barbados political, legal or constitutional landscape to warrant further intrusion into any PM’s personal medical records, or by extension those of our political leaders, i.e. current or future members of Executive, or even members of Parliament.”

    Re – FACT #1: Because no such disclosure has not been performed until now, does not make it right.

    FACT #2: The very item to which you refer is what Barbadians to this day would indeed like to know what really happened as opposed to conjecture… In fact, why was no autopsy undertaken and by whose orders? Etc.

    FACT #3: Indeed there is such confidentiality, however, if one uses the basis of precedent, then apart from the very erudite “Anon’s” listing of regional leaders I carry one step further – in the USA Federal Administrators MUST reveal all medical conditions and related illnesses thereof. When “Dubya” G. W. Bush refused to answer if he took illegal drugs there was an enormous stir in America, as they DEMANDED to know if a Public Figure who is conducting International Relations was in a correct capacity to do so…

    FACT’s #4 & 5: The mention of Gordon Brown’s health records and a GP who may have leaked them and did not face charges essentially scuttled your whole gambit and made your rebut rather moot. The lack of FOI is something BFP and myself have lobbied against for a while now, as there is no such legislature and hiding behind that loophole, what other ways is this country’s people denied proper service because it is legal in essence only because there’s no law which prescribes against such an action?

    Finally, FACT #6: Because we do not officially know means there is no change, what would have happened HAD we the people indeed been aware? “(AttributedThat, ‘dear Horatio‘, is the question”…

  14. BFP – I issued a very lengthy rebuttal, please unlock?

  15. BFP

    george unlock you Ian.

  16. Expatriate

    What is the problem that plagues our Island nation now? Masta Rasta you’re right, the Prime Minister relinguished his privacy when he took on the fiduciary post of head of Barbados’ government. He cannot, or should not seek to have it both ways. It was he, who spoke of transparency, and developing a more people focus Island nation. I respect the delicate nature of his illness, yet the people need to be informed of the nature of his illness. The governments of Barbados, no matter which one has been in power, have sought to make “The perfect, the enemy of the good.” In matters that have led to fiducial respect and responsibility, they’ve thumb their noses at the citizenry. Even greater than Thompson’s Illness, is the fact that politicians believe, they are not accountable to the masses for much of anything.

  17. Expatriate

    I find alarming the fact that bajan politicians, and their families lack the trust of the Barbadian health care system, they espouse as good to the bajan masses. Either I’m missing the “Boat” clearly on this one, or I’m somewhere in the ball park. Last time I checked, we had a Queen Elizabeth Hospital in St Michael, yet every elected official who has a cold, with an elevated temperature, runs to the big three, USA,England or Canada. That to me does not inspire confidence in the QEH, and those trained physicians employed there. How could you as servants of the masses, expect them to eat from a pot, that you yourselves choose not to partake of? Are your words , when it comes to health care system in Barbados, different from your deeds? If the health care system in Barbados is inadequate for politicians, then it should be scrapped, and rebuilt. What is good for politicians and their families, should also be good for the bajan citizenry.

  18. Robert Deschappe

    Expatriate: you wrote truthfully.

  19. Ddreamer

    Sir Harold was treated at the QEH. No fuss and frills.

  20. Bonjour

    Expatriate and others of like mind need to stop lying on QEH and politicians. Name the politicians who have gone abroad for interventions that could be performed in the QEH and name those who were treated in QEH or Bayview. Evidence is there that most politicians have been dealt with either at QEH or Bayview. Those that have gone abroad did so mainly after being treated in QEH or on advice of doctors here.

    Stop making false statements and bring the facts.

  21. David

    The issue is not whether the PM should disclose personal health issues. The issue is whether the Government should drift due to the ego of an individual who in effect invokes privacy whilst being unable to perform his duties.

    Thompson should step down until such time as his health issues are resolved.

  22. Christy

    I am confident that the Barbadian Prime Minister David Thompson should disclose to the world the nature of his apparently serious illness and the prospect of recovery. It is not important whether this disclosure was done at any previous period in the governance of Barbados. It is better that the people are told the truth than suffering under the burden of speculation about the health of their prime minister.

    This disclosure will not result in any loss of privacy by David Thompson but will likely bring feelings of sympathy, goodwill and much prayer all aimed his healing. There is nothing wrong if someone who is so ill were to say “I am sick with bowel cancer for which I am receiving very good treatment and my chances of a full recovery are good”.

  23. Patience

    Correct is right.
    And his PR persons quite frankly are lousy.

    This is about Barbados…that’s the big picture here…and we are all praying for both his and our country s’ full recovery!

    Lets do whats best for Barbados and that’s allowing the PM to properly recover while the country is handed over to the right persons to lead.

    Freundel,by the way has proven that its not him.