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Capitol Physician Under Fire After Giving Mitch McConnell Passing Bill of Health

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The doctor who oversees the medical care for all 535 members of Congress is facing new scrutiny after he essentially gave Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell positive updates on his health.

The criticism of Dr. Brian Monahan comes after he essentially gave the Kentucky Republican passing health grades after McConnell had two back-to-back “freezing” episodes, one during his weekly press conference in Washington, D.C., last month and the other at an event in his home state shortly afterward.

Monahan’s rosy diagnoses “have drawn scrutiny and contradicted other doctors’ reported impressions of the top Republican’s condition,” Axios reported last week.

“Monahan’s role as a medical doctor for Congress has gained more attention as McConnell has remained committed to staying in office following multiple health episodes this year,” the report continued.

Monahan, a Navy doctor who has served as the congressional physician for 15 years, is also responsible for taking care of Supreme Court justices, staff members, and even tourists, The New York Times reported.

Dr. Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at N.Y.U. Langone, told the Times, “The ethicists sometimes call it the problem of dual loyalty,” comparing the role of the Capitol physician to physicians who work for professional sports teams.

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Each healthcare provider has dual responsibilities – one to their individual patients and another to their employers or organizations, who depend on patients being healthy enough to continue their activities, whether it’s work or leisure, which can lead to potential conflicts of interest, the Times noted.

“You know the coaches and the owners want the athletes out there playing, but you also want to look out for their health,” Caplan added.

Monahan eventually diagnosed McConnell, who suffered a serious fall earlier this year that caused a concussion, as being dehydrated, which led other doctors to scoff at that conclusion.

“Medicine shouldn’t be politicized,” Sen. Rand Paul, also a Kentucky Republican who is an ophthalmologist. “And if you’re giving advice on what someone’s potential diagnosis is, really, it ought to be based on the facts. And what I can tell you is that having vacant spells of 30 seconds or more where you’re unresponsive is not a sign or a symptom of dehydration.”

“When you have misinformation put out there, like ‘just dehydration,’ it leads to further conjecture, well, maybe there’s something else we’re not telling,” he told the Times.

“Everybody’s seen the clips,” Paul previously said, according to Axios. “It’s not a valid medical diagnosis for people to say that’s dehydration.”

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However, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), an obstetrician-gynecologist, countered that he didn’t think Monahan would come up with an untrue diagnosis. “I do think at some points in time, he has to play politics, and I appreciate how tough that is, that he does want to be as neutral as possible,” he told Axios.

McConnell said he intends to lead the GOP for the remainder of the 118th Congress, according to a statement released by his Kentucky office last month.

“Questions about the future of McConnell, 81, were swiftly raised this week after he froze for 30 seconds during a news conference. The statement doesn’t address his plans for the next Congress, which begins in 2025,” CNN reported.

In the midst of the weekly Senate Republican Agenda press conference in early August, McConnell was addressing reporters when he unexpectedly paused. He stood at the podium for several moments in silence, and his fellow colleagues eventually intervened to guide him away.

He returned shortly after to take questions.

CNN’s Manu Raju reported that when McConnell eventually came back to the press event, he told reporters that he was “fine” and took several questions.

Raju subsequently heard from a McConnell aide that the GOP leader felt “lightheaded” when the episode happened.

“From a McConnell aide: ‘He felt light-headed and stepped away for a moment. He came back to handle Q and A, which as everyone observed was sharp,’” Raju tweeted.

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