One of the few Apple-related issues that has received as much attention in recent years as a new product launch is the state of Steve Jobs’s health.
When news broke Wednesday that the iconic CEO is stepping aside from his position permanently after a leave of absence for undisclosed medical issues that began in January, the chatter reached a fever pitch.
Although the public doesn’t know the specific reason Mr. Jobs decided to step down – his resignation letter only mentioned that the “day has come” where he can no longer perform his duties – that hasn’t stopped anyone from speculating that his health is to blame, and discussing what specific ailment led to the decision.
Such rampant speculation, coupled with a void of information from Apple, raises the question of whether he should be required to disclose the state of his health. Do public figures such as Mr. Jobs have a responsibility to come forward with information – especially when it could affect investors?
Mr. Jobs, who was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2003 and underwent a liver transplant in 2009, has remained guarded about his health even as company followers traded online analyses about his weight at each public appearance.
News outlets such as Reuters and USA Today even published stories Thursday quoting doctors who have no specific knowledge of Mr. Jobs’s case, but who nonetheless offered their opinion on what particular setback led to his resignation.
But do we really have a right to know the personal health details of a man who has continuously asked for privacy?
Earlier this year, Ben Heineman argued in The Atlantic that Apple should provide the information and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission should require it.
“Everyone wishes Jobs a full and speedy recover. But, given Jobs's powerful position, we should know from what,” Mr. Heineman wrote.
So do people forfeit their right to privacy when they step into the public eye?
It’s a question that has been on the minds of many Canadians since July, when NDP leader Jack Layton announced he was taking a leave after being diagnosed with a second type of cancer (he was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year). Mr. Layton, who never disclosed what type of cancer he had, died this week.
Many argue that, as one of the country’s top politicians, Mr. Layton had a duty to be more forthcoming. In a column published in The Globe and Mail, health writer André Picard argued one of the reasons for disclosure is to stop rumours and idle speculation.
“Where there is an absence of real health information, guesswork inevitably fills the void.”
Others disagree, saying it does no good to reveal the nitty-gritty details. And while the public may want to know certain things, that’s different from having a right to hear them, Margaret Somerville of McGill University wrote in a counter-opinion published by The Globe.
“Keeping some information private can help to give us a sense of control, which helps to reduce fear and anxiety and, as explained above, suffering. And sometimes, we just need the space that privacy provides, small as that space may be in relation to a public figure, to come to terms with our changed situation,” she wrote.
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