But this scenario also poses questions for debate: Who would assume the presidency during Chavez's temporary absence? Is there a chance Chavez will recover?
The constitution says the vice president should take over if a temporary absence is declared. But if Chavez hasn't been sworn in, does he have a legitimate vice president?
Some Chavez supporters argue that because he was reelected, Chavez's administration automatically continues into the new term. But Venezuela's opposition argues that the current government ends with the term on January 10, and therefore, the head of the National Assembly should assume the presidency.
A larger question lawmakers will have to consider, experts say, is whether a temporary absence designation is appropriate.
"Is he physically able to handle a six-year term?" asked Casal, the constitutional law professor.
It's hard to say, said the Carter Center's McCoy.
"We don't know the prognosis," she said. "That's the real issue."