Unpacking Dr. Oz Attacking John Fetterman for Surviving a Stroke

Via the Fetterman for Senate campaign

Dr. Oz is trying to erode our trust in John Fetterman, vy strongly implying he’s hiding something about his health or unable to make an informed decisions about his own capabilities.

Frankly, this again takes us back to abortion. There’s a shaming factor around *why* someone wants to access an abortion while also a patronizing tone of saying that someone can’t possibly know what’s in their best interest. It is like a one two punch that strips away the autonomy of the person while holding them in second class citizen status.


John Fetterman had a stroke. And Dr. Mehmet Oz doesn’t know what to do. So he’s resorting to the bullies playbook of being a judgmental jagoff by making fun of John then pivoting to drag outgoing Senator Pat Toomey into a series of sober suggestions that poor John doesn’t realize how sick he is. But they do?

“If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.”

Dr. Oz for US Senate campaign

Let’s unpack this.

There’s the simple fact that Dr. Mehmet Oz is a licensed physician. He has ‘obligations and professional behavior of a doctor to their patients and wider society’ – something we commonly understand as ‘The Hippocratic Oath’ particularly the phrase ‘First, do no harm.’ It a truth universally understood, right?

I suggest that Dr. Oz’s response to John Fetterman’s health status has done a lot of harm.

First, there’s John and his family, including his wife and children, parents, and extended family. John almost died. He did not, but that’s a traumatic experience for any family. Asking informed, thoughtful questions about his health is fair game, but taunting a stroke survivor and their family is directly using a tragedy to win points. At its core, there’s a lack of compassion and decency from anyone. From a doctor? It is heinous that these three children will grow up through this experience literally attacking their father about a health crisis that almost took him from them.

Second, there is harm to the residents of Pennsylvania. If a doctor is willing to use John Fetterman’s health as a weapon in a political campaign, what do we expect from that doctor with regard to making healthcare policy? If he thinks or is willing to gain points by promulgating a claim that stroke survivors don’t eat enough vegetables – to blame them – what do we expect around reproductive and abortion healthcare? If John should have consumed more fruits and vegetables, does that mean women should not wear certain clothes, not go to certain places alone, not have sex, use more birth control, not drink too much, or not be born into a sexually violent family? How has that preventative approach to healthcare worked in terms of abortions and reproductive health?

There is harm because Dr. Oz does not support abortions and will make them out of reach for almost everyone. And he will then blame us for not doing more to avoid needing an abortion. Targeting John’s health to distract us from abortion should have the opposite effect as we acknowledge just how far he will contort himself to ban abortion.

And Medicare and Medicaid. And other essentials health programs embedded in our social safety net.

Third, Dr. Oz has brought harm to the larger community by fueling the idea that strokes automatically make people “lesser fit” to participate in public service. I’m not minimizing the serious impact of strokes – more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke according to the CDC. But Dr. Oz is not John’s physician so he doesn’t know what parts of John’s lifestyle were contributing factors and he doesn’t have any medical reason to assume John is not headed to a full recovery or the capacity to serve in office. If anything, he should be better in tune with the realities of any recovery process not being “obvious” than the typical candidate.

Does anyone think members of the Senate and House of Representatives have not had strokes while in office? The majority of strokes occur in people who are 65 or older. The average age of Members of the House at the beginning of the 117th Congress was 58.4 years; of Senators, 64.3 years. In fact, two seated Senators had strokes in 2022 and are both back to work.

Remember when Presidents hid their health struggles and still held office? We do not want to discourage candidates from being transparent about their health. And we certainly don’t want the public to absorb that message – the a health issue or a disability is automatically a disqualification from being a “normal” person.

And that’s a final significant area of harm – the message Dr. Oz is sending about the capacity of a person who experiences a health crisis or lives with a disability to be part of our society. John Fetterman’s team has explained that the significant challenge he faces now is auditory processing. He relies on some assistive technology during conversations to process what he hears.

How many members of the US Congress do you think might do something similar, such as using a hearing aid? Does a hearing aid or other assistive devices disqualify someone from serving in government? Of course not. It always ALWAYS depends upon the person’s unique situation.

That’s such a fundamental issue and reflection on who we are as Americans – the way we treat people who are disabled or those who live with health conditions or those who survived a health crisis. We lean towards pity and disregard, especially when it comes to elected officials funding programs.

And we lean toward skepticism or outright denial that people with disabilities – like me – are telling the truth. I could tell you a thousand stories about when I was personally treated this way. I’ve been “totally and permanently disabled” since 2010. But here you are, reading my blog 12 years down the road in spite of what society expects from me.

The low point thus far is the Oz campaign’s cruelly satirical “concession” that it will fund “any additional medical personnel [Mr. Fetterman] might need to have on standby” during a debate.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Dr. Oz is trying to erode our trust in John Fetterman, strongly implying he’s hiding something about his health or unable to make an informed decisions about his own capabilities.

Frankly, this again takes us back to abortion. There’s a shaming factor around *why* someone wants to access an abortion while also a patronizing tone of saying that someone can’t possibly know what’s in their best interest. It is like a one two punch that strips away the autonomy of the person while holding them in second class citizen status.

If John Fetterman needs assistive devices to engage the voters and his colleagues, that’s fine. To my knowledge, 17 members of the current federal government have disabilities, including our President. So the presumption that John’s lingering challenges from the stroke automatically makes him ineligible to serve is innacurate, unethical, and dangerous for everyone.

It is also a distraction that has nothing to do with his health or the best interests of the people of Pennsylvania and everything to do with power.

Frankly, I’d prefer the stroke survivor who is much more likely to have empathy when making healthcare policy decisions than the physician who can’t make good choices when it comes to something so basic as “First do no harm.” I also believe if John could not handle the stress and strain of serving in a Senate, if it would compromise his health and threaten his life, he wouldn’t continue. I believe John Fetterman would not put his children at risk of losing their father.

One thing further – I’ve repeatedly said that John Fetterman’s campaign sets the bar high because all of his humorous jabs and jokes are about Dr. Oz’s choices, decisions, and statements. He does not mock him based on his nationality, ethnicity, or religion. He doesn’t have to because Dr. Oz is a walking punchline all on his own. But also because that’s not how campaigns should be run. And that’s not how leaders lead.

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