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Medical privacy

People want to keep their state of health private. I know people who prefer to keep serious health problems even from their family and close friends, mainly because they don’t want others to worry about them or pity them.

This is especially true of life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, or afflictions characterized by degeneration of physical or cognitive abilities such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease, and sexually transmitted diseases.

The secrecy is greatest for mental health problems. These days, there is better understanding of mental health, but in our society, the stigma attached to psychological problems persists. Few people will admit seeing a mental health professional.

Medical privacy becomes complicated in the case of top public officials. Are they entitled to keep their state of health private? Or is it their duty to keep the public fully informed?

People want public officials to deliver optimum service, which requires physical and mental fitness relative to the official’s age.

In the case of the president of the republic, health disclosure is required. The Constitution provides succession rules in case the president becomes incapacitated or unable in any way to perform the duties of the office.

Health disclosure is sought even from candidates for the presidency.

Privacy issues surrounding the health of public figures is not unique to the Philippines. We’re seeing this in the disclosure, after weeks of secrecy, about the UK’s Princess Kate undergoing preventative chemotherapy for cancer that was detected after she underwent abdominal surgery last January.

Her father-in-law King Charles III also underwent treatment for cancer, which was reportedly detected early, indicating that the 75-year-old monarch is on the way to recovery. Sarah Ferguson, the duchess of York, also announced this year that she has skin cancer.

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The disclosure about Princess Kate was surprising because she’s only 42 and until the announcement always looked stunning and in the pink of health.

It’s not unusual, of course, for a 42-year-old to be diagnosed with cancer. It happened to some of my friends, even at a younger age. One died of abdominal cancer at