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Hollande's surgery re-ignites privacy debate in France

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-04

The Elysée Palace confirmed Wednesday that French President François Hollande had prostate surgery in February 2011, relaunching a debate over whether the public has the right to know about the head of state's health.

The Elysée Palace confirmed Wednesday that French President François Hollande underwent minor surgery in February 2011, after France Inter Radio initially revealed that the president had been hospitalised for several days just before the Socialist Party primaries.

Several minutes before the press release was published, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also confirmed the news on RTL Radio, though he remained reticent on certain aspects of the procedure.

“Anything that falls in the private sphere is not my news to share. He wasn’t president when he had this minor operation,” Ayrault said.

For Ayrault, the operation was a non-issue.

“Many French men have problems with their prostates when they hit fifty. It’s normal,” he said. “Shouldn’t we respect that? Or do we always have to delve into a person’s private life?”

Bernard Debré is a French MP and a member of the opposition party UMP. He also happens to be the head doctor of the urology department at the hospital where Hollande had his operation. Debré told FRANCE 24's sister station Radio France Internationale that Hollande “wasn’t hiding anything.”

“There was nothing wrong with him! It’s just like we decided to say: you know, François Hollande had his appendix removed when he was seven. Who cares?” Debré said.

Debré also happened to be part of the team that cared for former President François Mitterand, who underwent prostate surgery at the end of his second term in September 1992.

Ongoing debate

In France, the president’s health has always been a highly sensitive issue and for good reason. Former President Georges Pompidou’s illness was kept secret until his death in office in 1974. Former President François Mitterand published falsified health reports for years before undergoing surgery for prostate cancer while in office. Finally, in September 2005, then-President Jacques Chirac had a stroke during his third year as president.

Until that point, French leaders had never found it opportune to share their medical details, instead invoking their right to privacy.

However, in a September 2012 interview with Quotidien du médecin, a daily geared to medical professionals, Hollande said that he was in favour of communicating “regularly and publicly information regarding the president’s health,” though he also called for continued respect for the president’s privacy. In the same interview, he committed to publishing his personal health reports every six months, though there is no legal obligation for the president to do so.

Since taking office, the president has published two health bulletins. His last bulletin, published on March 6, 2013, declared his health as “normal.”


Date created : 2013-12-04


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