Ex-Surgeon General Says He Was Silenced on Key Health Issues
Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona on Tuesday testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the Bush administration regularly prevented him from speaking freely about controversial issues including stem cell research, emergency contraception, sex education, and correctional, mental and global health issues, the Wall Street Journal reports (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 7/11).
Carmona, a former professor of surgery and public health at the University of Arizona, was nominated by President Bush and served as surgeon general from 2002 to 2006 (Lee, Washington Post, 7/11).
He said the administration often edited his speeches for politically controversial content and encouraged him to attend internal "political pep rallies," the Journal reports. He also said that his speeches were edited to include at least three references to Bush per page (Wall Street Journal, 7/11).
Carmona said that he was told not to speak out during the national debate over whether the federal government should fund embryonic stem cell research, which Bush opposes.
He said, "Much of the discussion was being driven by theology, ideology (and) preconceived beliefs that were scientifically incorrect." He added, "I was blocked at every turn. I was told the decision had already been made -- 'Stand down. Don't talk about it.' That information was removed from my speeches" (Washington Post, 7/11).
Carmona also said his efforts to inform the public about sex education were obstructed, including efforts to disseminate information about studies that showed that the most effective approach includes a discussion of contraceptives.
He said there was "already a policy in place that did not want to hear the science but wanted to preach abstinence only, but I felt that was scientifically incorrect" (Harris, New York Times, 7/11).
One of Carmona's "major accomplishments as surgeon general was a landmark report on the dangers of secondhand smoke," according to the Los Angeles Times.
He said that the report's release was delayed because of political considerations (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 7/11).
Carmona also said his efforts to educate the public about the inadequacies of health care within the correctional health care system were blocked by the Bush administration (New York Times, 7/11).
In addition, Carmona said that he was prohibited from attending a Special Olympics event to talk about health and disabilities, adding, "I was told I would be helping a politically prominent family, (and) why would I want to help those people?"
The Special Olympics were founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) (Wall Street Journal, 7/11).
During the hearing, two other former surgeons general, David Satcher and Everett Koop, said that they also had faced political interference (Washington Post, 7/11).
Satcher, who served under former President Clinton from 1998 to 2002, said he was prevented from presenting information about the benefit of needle-exchange programs in reducing the spread of HIV -- a policy that Clinton opposed (New York Times, 7/11).
Koop, who served in the Reagan administration, said that he spoke out about AIDS during his tenure despite political pressure not to do so (Washington Post, 7/11).
Carmona testified that he consulted six former surgeons general to determine whether the Bush administration's actions were inappropriate. All agreed he had faced more political interference than they had, Carmona said (New York Times, 7/11).
Carmona told the House panel that he would prefer to release privately the names of the individuals who blocked his reports because some of the people still work in the Bush administration (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 7/10).
Carmona said, "Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological or political agenda is often ignored, marginalized or simply buried. The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds."
White House spokesperson Tony Fratto said, "As surgeon general, Dr. Carmona was given the authority and had the obligation to be the leading voice for the health of all Americans. It's disappointing to us if he failed to use his position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies he thought were in the best interests of the nation" (Washington Post, 7/11).
HHS in a statement Tuesday said that it disagrees with Carmona's statements, adding, "It has always been this administration's position that public health policy should be rooted in sound science. This administration gave Dr. Carmona ample opportunity to communicate his view to the American people, and he routinely did so in hundreds of appearances before the public, the media and Congress during his four years as surgeon general" (CQ HealthBeat, 7/10).
During the hearing, some Republican committee members "suggested that Carmona, who worked his way up from humble origins and was decorated for combat service in Vietnam, simply wasn't cut out for the Washington insider's game of bureaucratic turf battles," the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 7/11).
The House hearing was held two days before the Senate is scheduled to hold confirmation hearings on James Holsinger, who has been nominated by Bush to succeed Carmona as surgeon general.
Holsinger has faced criticism about a 1991 report he wrote concluding that homosexual sex was unhealthy and unnatural, and Carmona's testimony might "further complicate" Holsinger's nomination, according to the New York Times.
The three former surgeons general during the hearing called for major changes in the way the nation's top doctor is selected and the way the office is financed (New York Times, 7/11).
Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) urged Congress to take steps to protect the office from political influence, the Post reports (Washington Post, 7/11).
Waxman said that political interference with the surgeon general "appears to have reached a new level in this administration. ... The surgeon general's greatest resources -- his or her ability to speak honestly and credibly to the nation about public health -- is in great jeopardy" (CQ HealthBeat, 7/10).
Several broadcast programs on Tuesday reported on Carmona's testimony. Summaries appear below.
- ABC's "World News": The segment includes comments from Carmona, Satcher and Koop (Stark, "World News," ABC, 7/10). Video of the segment is available online.
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Carmona and former government scientist James Hansen (Attkisson, "Evening News," CBS, 7/10). Video of the segment and expanded CBS News coverage are available online.
- CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360": The segment includes a discussion with Carmona (Cooper, "Anderson Cooper 360," CNN, 7/10). A transcript of the complete program is available online.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment includes comments from Carmona and Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Reid, "Nightly News," NBC, 7/10). Video of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Carmona and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/10). Audio and a partial transcript of the segment are available online.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The segment includes a discussion with Carmona (Woodruff, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 7/10). Audio and a transcript of the segment are available online. Video of the segment will be available Wednesday afternoon.