EDITORIAL

Lord Moran’s lesson: age can wither the best of them

July 23 1966
EDITORIAL

Lord Moran’s lesson: age can wither the best of them

July 23 1966

Lord Moran’s lesson: age can wither the best of them

EDITORIAL

IN ALL THE RAGING argument about the book by Lord Moran, Sir Winston Churchill’s personal physician, the most important point is seldom mentioned. That is the right of the voting public to be told when a man in high office becomes unfit, physically or mentally, to discharge that office.

Lord Moran takes great pride in his success, during 15 years, at keeping Churchill’s illnesses secret. Here is what he wrote in his diary on November 30, 1954:

“Winston Churchill is eighty years of age today — a remarkable achievement for a man of his habits .... It is now fifteen years since I first saw him, and in that time he has had:

“1. A heart attack in Washington, just after Pearl Harbor;

“2. Three attacks of pneumonia, one of which at any rate was ‘a damned nice thing’;

“3. Two strokes, in 1949 and 1953 (he also had one in 1952, which Lord Moran forgot to mention on this occasion);

“4. Two operations, one of which found the abdomen full of adhesions and lasted two hours;

“5. Senile pruritis, perhaps the most intractable of all skin troubles;

“6. A form of conjunctivitis unlikely to clear up without a small operation . . .

“To this catalogue of woe I should add that for ten years he has not had natural sleep apart from sedatives. Looking back, he seems to have been in the wars a great deal, but I treasure my battle honors: It has been possible, save for two attacks of pneumonia and some gossip about his stroke in June 1953, to keep all this from the public, and for that matter from the political world.”

The heart attack in 1942 was so slight that Moran didn’t even tell his patient, for fear of lowering his morale. The bouts of pneumonia were eventually announced, and besides Churchill made a full recovery.

The three strokes were a different matter. Churchill was never the same man after even the first and mildest of them, in 1949 — but he led his party through two more elections and became prime minister again. When he returned to 10 Downing Street his staff knew that his mental powers were impaired, but the public didn’t. His stroke in 1952 left him paralyzed and partially speechless for months. After the one in 1953 he couldn’t move, even in bed, and for some days was thought to be dying. By this time, Lord Moran says, “it had become plain to the Party that he was no longer fit to carry out his duties as Prime Minister.” But he continued to be Prime Minister for almost two years more.

These are very sobering facts for Canadians to ponder. Both doctors and politicians follow the same tradition in this country — for example, the gravity of Conservative Leader George Drew’s illness in late 1955, when in fact he nearly died, was deliberately concealed for a long time by party headquarters.

We and the British have made a lot of fun of Lyndon Johnson's abdominal-scar pictures, and the solemn official announcement of President Eisenhower’s bowel movements. But in a country where both major parties are led by men who are pushing 70, we might wonder instead whether a firm tradition of instant publicity for the ailments of national leaders might be a good thing for us too.