SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - With the expected return of Chief Executive Steve Jobs to the helm of Apple Inc come the inevitable questions about disclosures related to his health.
Jobs, who was treated for a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004, has made his health a private matter, revealing very little about his condition.
He stepped away from his day-to-day duties at Apple in January, and the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that he underwent a liver transplant about two months ago. The company has declined to comment.
Although shareholders have at times complained about Apple’s failure to be forthcoming about Jobs, a Silicon Valley icon who is widely viewed as the company’s chief visionary, experts say there isn’t necessarily a legal requirement to reveal details of his treatment.
“You don’t have the responsibility to disclose the health of a CEO every hour of every day,” said Claudia Allen, who chairs the corporate governance practice group at Neal Gerber & Eisenberg.
She said Jobs’ case is something of a gray area, where Apple’s board must balance his right to privacy against the company’s responsibility to disclose material information.
“You would think they have been well advised on the matter,” Allen said.
Larry Harris, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, said there might be some issue around disclosure if Jobs’ life was immediately threatened.
However, he said, “The record does not seem to indicate that he’s going to be leaving the company any time soon .... To my view the public doesn’t have a right to know too much about his personal life, and he seems well capable of doing his job.”
Apple has said nothing publicly about Jobs’ health during his nearly six-month medical leave.
In 2004, he was treated for a rare type of pancreatic cancer called an islet-cell, or neuroendocrine, tumor. These tumors usually grow slowly and are far less deadly than other types of pancreatic tumors.
Although details on his current condition aren’t known, if the tumor migrated to the liver from the pancreas, a liver transplant may be an effective treatment, said Dr. Robert Brown, director of the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia.
“Our experience after a liver transplant is a return to normal function,” said Brown, who has not treated Jobs.
Some in the legal community noted that Jobs’ medical leave protects Apple from shareholder complaints around disclosing the surgery.
Many also note that the general public is by now quite aware of the history of his health problems, so no one can claim to be misled. Apple shares are also up about 60 percent this year.
“ told the public he was going to take a leave of absence,” said one partner at a corporate defense firm who is litigating against Apple and asked not to be named for that reason.
“I don’t believe that while he was on leave they had an obligation to inform the public of the day-to-day ins and outs of his health.”
Reporting by Gabriel Madway, Julie Steenhuysen and Gina Keating; Editing by Richard Chang