Will Dr Oz's COVID Views Hurt or Help His Senate Run?

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


January 03, 2022

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hi. I'm Art Caplan. I'm the head of the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

We have a new entry in politics. Dr Oz, of TV fame — one of Oprah's favorites who's been on the television airwaves for many years — has announced that he will be a candidate for a Senate seat in the state of Pennsylvania.

Now, many will know Dr Oz by his almost omnipresent presence in various media outlets beyond TV. I know he's been called upon to testify in Congress about different issues. He is one of the more prominent physicians in the United States, if not in the world.

There are going to be many issues that come up about his candidacy. He has, as far as I know, not spent a lot of time living in the state of Pennsylvania. I have no doubt that there are going to be charges of what's called carpetbagging — that is, showing up to run in a state where you don't live and you don't really know the issues that the residents face.

Dr Oz has maintained a pretty big house in the state of New Jersey, which makes some sense because I think that puts him closer to his media work and to his appointment at Columbia University, where he is in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery. His credentials are strong in terms of medicine.

What I think is going to be unique about his candidacy is he is likely to become the first doctor put on a kind of public trial or public accountability for statements both about COVID-19 and how to manage it, and for recommendations that he has made over the years on his TV show about managing other healthcare problems, using alternative, complementary, unproven, and controversial interventions — some of which it's alleged that he had a stake in trying to sell or promote and might have profited from by using his big platform to promote them.

We can argue about Dr Oz coming in and his political views; I think he's running as a Republican. We could argue about whether he really belongs as a representative of Pennsylvanians. Has he lived there long enough? Is he legitimate? The real battleground is going to be his opponents, whether they're his Republican opponents in the primary in Pennsylvania or, if he wins that, Democratic opposition in a key Senate seat. They're going to go after him as a source of misinformation.

I've looked at statements from medical organizations and many groups. There's much condemnation out there of some of what Dr Oz says. To put it roughly, he has moved from the mainstream of medicine where he was as a Columbia doctor, to kind of a popular-ratings, triumphant spokesperson for the oddball, the weird, the strange, and the unproven — and, in the era of COVID-19, some would argue the very dangerous.

I have looked over some of his statements, and I think many of them are dangerous. They advocate doing things that are not likely to cure or fix COVID-19. He has really promoted stuff that is just out there and on the fringe, and if he hasn't promoted it, he's at least been nodding and winking at it.

Is this likely to cost him the effort? Is this likely to make him unelectable in the state of Pennsylvania? I don't think so. As much as it's probable that we're going to see him held to account and challenged for everything that he has said — that's what the opposition does — I happen to think that the people will turn toward his views as a pro-Trump supporter, an anti-Biden critic, and someone who says, "I have enough skill, I have the entrepreneurship, I have the advocacy, I have the communication skills to get things done for Pennsylvanians."

If they don't boot Dr Oz out as someone who shouldn't be in the race because he isn't Pennsylvanian enough, my own hunch is that although we, in medicine and healthcare, may pay close attention to him being criticized for outrageous or extreme statements, that's not going to win or lose him the election.

There's enough tolerance out there at this point in time of all kinds of opinions and views concerning how to manage COVID-19 or the values of alternative and complementary medicine that I don't think it's going to hurt him. That may be sad for the United States, but it's probably good if you're Dr Oz.

I'm Art Caplan at the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Grossman School of Medicine. Thanks for watching.

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, is director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center and School of Medicine. He is the author or editor of 35 books and 750 peer-reviewed articles as well as a frequent commentator in the media on bioethical issues.

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