RONALD REAGAN: THE MISUSE OF THE TWENTY FIFTH AMENDMENT

In July 1985 Ronald Reagan underwent a colonoscopy, followed by a colon resection for cancer, both under general anesthesia. Section Three of the Twenty Fifth Amendment was discussed, but was not appropriately applied.

Burton Smith, a California urologist, had successfully lobbied the president to serve as his presidential physician; he succeeded Dan Ruge as the White House doctor during the second Reagan presidential term. Smith was a urologist, but his planning for the invocation of the Disability Amendment was ineffective. When Smith was asked about the effects of sedation prior to a colonoscopy, he compared it to drinking one or more martinis. Consequently, the Amendment was not invoked at the time.

Since the procedure disclosed a strong probability of cancer, a colon resection was planned. Contingency planning occurred that included Assistant White House Physician John Hutton, but excluded Dr. Smith. Press Secretary Larry Speakes and Chief of Staff Don Regan joined in. As a result President Reagan did submit letters to the Spake of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate that appointed Vice President George Bush as acting president.

However, Reagan dodged the application of Amendment XXV Section , in stating that upon advice of his Counsel and the Attorney General, he did not believe that “the drafters of this amendment intended its application to situations such as the present one.” Therefore, the Amendment was misused.

Scroll to Top