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WHO SHOULD DECIDE IF PRESIDENT IS UNFIT?

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Ronald Reagan's disclosure last month that he has Alzheimer's disease raised questions about what would happen if a president were disabled and refused to recognize it.

Jimmy Carter says he'd like the decision about when the powers of a disabled president should be transferred to the vice president to be made by an independent panel of doctors - not the president's Cabinet and vice president.The Constitution's 25th Amendment, adopted in 1967 to deal with presidential disability, spells out a procedure. It says the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet "or of such other body as Congress may by law provide," can act when those officials determine that the president is unable to function.

If the president resists, it would require a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress to keep him from resuming power.

That part of the 25th Amendment has never been used, and Congress has not designated any other body to make the judgment.

But Carter, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said he'd like to put the decision in the hands of outside doctors.

Otherwise, he said, the vice president and the Cabinet would rely on the president's personal physicians, who would be torn between loyalty to the chief executive and to the nation's best interests.

"We must find a better way," Carter wrote. "This might be by creating a nonpartisan group of expert representatives of the medical community who are not directly involved in the case of the president. They could be given the responsibility for determining disability, thereby relieving the president's physicians from their potential conflict of interest and enabling the 25th Amendment to work prudently and smoothly."

Carter made no mention of Reagan's condition. But in Minneapolis, Dr. Steve Miles, a professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Minnesota, recently wrote in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that he and other geriatricians had been concerned by Reagan's behavior during his presidency.