Surgeon General Nominee Pledges To Resist Politics
President Bush's nominee for surgeon general, James Holsinger, on Thursday during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing said he is dedicated to science and would resign if Bush administration officials pressured him to skew his recommendations for ideological reasons, the Los Angeles Times reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 7/13).
Holsinger has served as secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and as chancellor of the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center. He also had a 26-year career with the Department of Veterans Affairs and served for more than 30 years in the Army Reserve.
The term of the previous surgeon general, Richard Carmona, expired last summer, and Bush nominated Holsinger in May.
Some lawmakers and gay and lesbian advocacy groups have raised concern about his position on gay-rights issues (California Healthline, 7/10).
Holsinger discussed a paper he wrote in 1991 that has been criticized by public health experts and gay-rights groups, saying it is "does not represent where [he is] today." He added that the issues presented in the paper "would not even be the major issues in the front of our gay and lesbian community today" (Freking, AP/Forbes, 7/12).
According to the Washington Post, most of the hearing on Thursday focused on how Holsinger would react to political interference that Carmona testified about on Tuesday at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing (Lee, Washington Post, 7/13).
Carmona, who was nominated by Bush to serve as surgeon general from 2002 to 2006, at the House hearing said the Bush administration routinely blocked him from speaking out or issuing reports on human embryonic stem cell research, abstinence-only sex education, emergency contraception and other sensitive public health issues while he was serving in the position. He also said the administration often edited his speeches for politically controversial content and encouraged him to attend internal political meetings (California Healthline, 7/11).
Holsinger on Thursday said, "I would use the science to attempt to educate the policymakers," adding, "Quite candidly, if I were unable to do that and I was being overridden, ... I would resign" (Los Angeles Times, 7/13).
HELP Committee Democrats at the hearing asked Holsinger about his views on sex education, contraception use and human embryonic stem cell research, CQ HealthBeat reports (Armstrong, CQ HealthBeat, 7/12).
The Family Research Council and other conservative groups object to Holsinger's nomination because of previous statements he made in support of loosening regulations on cloning and human embryonic stem cell research.
Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research currently is allowed only for research using embryonic stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, under a policy announced by Bush on that date (California Healthline, 6/20).
Holsinger said he supports embryonic stem cell research but added that he thinks current federal funding for it is sufficient (CQ HealthBeat, 7/12).
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chair of the committee, asked Holsinger if he thinks lifting the federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research would bolster scientific discovery in the field, and Holsinger replied that he is not well informed enough on the subject to offer an opinion.
Holsinger also said he advocates condom use, as well as abstinence, as "appropriate" approaches to prevent unplanned pregnancies (Dunham, Reuters, 7/12). He added that he would not advocate reducing the availability of emergency contraception.
According to CQ HealthBeat, Holsinger's nomination "almost certainly" will be supported by most Republican senators (CQ HealthBeat, 7/12). According to the Times, no Democrats on the panel indicated they would support the nomination (Los Angeles Times, 7/13).
- KCRW's "Which Way, L.A.?": Guests on the program included Gardiner Harris, public health reporter for the New York Times; Joel Ginsberg of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association; former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders; Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists; and Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation (Sterngold, "Which Way, L.A.?," KCRW, 7/12). Full audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Holsinger; Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.); and Ruth Holsinger, mother of James Holsinger (Silberner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/12). A partial transcript and audio of the segment are available online.
- WBUR's "Here & Now": The segment includes a discussion with Drew Armstrong, a reporter covering the nomination for Congressional Quarterly. Full audio of the segment is available online. Thursday's program also included a discussion with Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, about politics and the position of surgeon general ("Here & Now," WBUR, 7/12). Full audio of the segment is available online.