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Surgeon General Nominee Testifies Before Senate Panel

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    July 13, 2007 Surgeon general nominee testifies before Senate panel A UMNS Report By Linda Bloom* The United Methodist nominee for U.S. surgeon general says
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 13, 2007
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      July 13, 2007
      Surgeon general nominee testifies before Senate panel
      A UMNS Report
      By Linda Bloom*

      The United Methodist nominee for U.S. surgeon general says his 1991
      paper on homosexuality was written for a denominational committee and
      does not reflect his position today.

      Testifying on July 12 in Washington before the U.S. Senate Committee
      on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr.
      said the paper - which focused on physical and medical aspects of
      homosexual practice - "does not represent where I am today. It does
      not represent who I am today."

      The two-hour hearing was available live over the Internet. A committee
      vote on his nomination will come at a later date.

      Holsinger, 68, a professor of preventative medicine at the University
      of Kentucky and a former leader of that state's health care system,
      has been active at all levels of The United Methodist Church,
      including serving as president of the Judicial Council, the church's
      supreme court. Gay and lesbian groups and others have criticized the
      council's homosexuality-related decisions as well as his 1991 paper.

      Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the committee chairman, expressed
      concern about whether the paper, titled "Pathophysiology of Male
      Homosexuality," avoided using all the available science on
      homosexuality in order to conform to an ideological viewpoint. The
      paper described gay sex as unnatural.

      Holsinger responded that the paper was never published and was not
      intended to serve as a medical treatise. It was created in response to
      specific questions from the denomination's committee, he explained,
      characterizing the paper more as a review of health issues related to
      homosexuality.

      He stressed his commitment "to provide quality health care to
      everyone" and recalled that in 2002 he came under intense political
      fire in Kentucky for supporting a women's health conference that
      included a session on health care for lesbians.

      At the United Methodist-related Africa University in Zimbabwe,
      Holsinger said he led an international team "to put together a plan to
      deal with the AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa," which resulted in
      the establishment of a school of health sciences at the university.
      The university has outreach programs for HIV/AIDS education and
      prevention.

      Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., the committee's ranking member, said he had
      talked with Holsinger and found him to be open, forthcoming,
      knowledgeable and compassionate - "all of the qualities you would
      expect from a doctor."

      While Enzi acknowledged criticism from gay rights groups regarding
      Holsinger, he said the doctor's peers, co-workers and former
      colleagues have written the committee in support of the nomination,
      along with C. Everett Koop, a former surgeon general.

      Noting his "deep love" for public service and passion for education,
      Holsinger told the committee he believes he can meet the challenge of
      the office. "I think I can proudly serve all Americans as the surgeon
      general," he said.

      The criticism directed against him has been troubling, he added,
      because it doesn't represent who he is, what he believes or how he has
      operated as a physician.

      "I have tried to live out my life in the practice of medicine caring
      for people regardless of their personal circumstances," he told the
      Senate committee members. If confirmed, Holsinger said he will
      continue to do so "regardless of sexual orientation or any other
      personal characteristics."

      Science vs. politics

      Several senators referred to comments made by Richard Carmona, the
      previous surgeon general, during July 10 testimony before the House
      Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

      Carmona said the Bush administration would not allow him to address
      such issues as sex education, emergency contraception and stem cell
      research; required him to mention President Bush numerous times during
      a speech; and wanted him to take other actions of a political nature.
      Koop, who was surgeon general under President Ronald Reagan, and David
      Satcher, who served under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush,
      also complained to the committee about political interference with
      their duties.

      Holsinger told Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, that if the Bush
      administration or a future administration tried to force him to modify
      a position based on strong scientific evidence, "I would use the
      science to attempt to educate the policymakers involved," adding that
      if necessary, "I would resign."

      At another point in the hearing, he said he would take the same action
      if he was ordered to do something he considered morally wrong. "I
      think we cannot have unfettered science without moral and ethnical
      implications. … It's clear there are balances."

      He reiterated his position to Sen. Bernard Saunders, an independent
      from Vermont, who expressed outrage over Carmona's experiences,
      likening the situation to "what would have happened in Stalinist Russia."

      Saunders told Holsinger that his challenge will be "to convince me and
      this committee" that he can stand up to such political pressure.
      Holsinger responded that he has taken "tremendous heat" over decisions
      in the past, citing his experience as chief medical director of the
      Veterans Health Administration in 1991 when he issued a directive that
      all returning Gulf War veterans would be treated at VA facilities.

      Philosophy and goals

      Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., was critical of some of Holsinger's
      decisions during his tenure with the VHA, and both she and Patty
      Murray, D-Wash., expressed concern about women's health needs and
      access to care.

      Under questioning by Murray, Holsinger said he would "encourage condom
      use" as a means of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted
      diseases but would discuss with young people all available options,
      including abstinence.

      Holsinger's own goals as the nation's top doctor would include
      fighting obesity, especially in children, continuing the efforts of
      his predecessors at "making America a tobacco-free nation" and
      upgrading the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps so it is
      "second to none" in its ability to respond to natural and manmade
      disasters.

      Kennedy noted that Holsinger had voiced opposition in 2002 to a
      Kentucky bill that would have invoked criminal penalties for embryonic
      stem cell research and pressed him about whether he would support
      extending that research beyond the Bush administration's current
      guidelines. Holsinger declined to give a specific answer, saying he
      was not well informed about the issue.

      *Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
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