Sex ed, junk food and universal healthcare

Bush's nominee for surgeon general faces the Senate.

By Julia Dahl

Published July 12, 2007 8:37PM (EDT)

Yesterday former Surgeon General Richard Carmona testified about political manipulation throughout his four years in office. Today the Senate held a hearing to confirm his replacement. The nominee, Dr. James W. Holsinger, former chancellor of the University of Kentucky Medical Center, faced questions and skepticism from lawmakers on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, including chairman Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. One issue was a paper Holsinger wrote in 1991 titled "The Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality," which some have read as being anti-gay.

In a letter to Kennedy, the American Public Health Association, which opposes Holsinger's nomination, wrote that is is "very concerned with Dr. Holsinger's past writings regarding his views of homosexuality, which put his political and religious ideology before established medical science."

If confirmed, Holsinger would focus much of his attention on childhood obesity and said that he would be willing to join in an effort to ban advertising junk food to children.

When asked what he would do if he were pressured by an administration to alter his scientifically based medical advice, Holsinger said he would first attempt to educate and bring consensus.

"Quite candidly, if I were unable to do that and I was being overridden, if necessary I would resign," he said.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., accused Holsinger, who has held several positions at the Department of Veterans Affairs in the past, of being resistant to change and "indifferent or dismissive of oversight when it came to the healthcare of women veterans and also sexual harassment at V.A. medical facilities."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., grilled Holsinger about his views on abstinence-only sex education, the controversial program into which she said the Bush administration has sunk more than $1 billion. But Holsinger demurred, saying he had "not had the opportunity to study ... the science surrounding" the practice. He did, however, state that he supports condom use as one of many means of preventing unplanned pregnancies and STDs.

Though Holsinger stopped short of advocating universal healthcare, he called the fact that there are approximately 46 million people without insurance in the U.S. "unconscionable."

"I don't know from a political policy point of view what is the best method," said Holsinger. "But I believe that that is a position I could advocate strongly for across America, that every American needs full, unfettered, non-judgmental access to healthcare, regardless of their personal circumstances, period."

He lamented that "we have spent years Band-Aiding our system."

Holsinger also said that he would "rescind legislation that allows the direct advertising of [prescription drugs] to the public," explaining that he thinks such practice puts pressure on physicians to "prescribe the blue pill or the pink pill or whatever the pill of the month might be."

And though he indicated he would not be swayed by politics, Holsinger showed a little political savvy when he guessed that his wish to ban such pharmaceutical advertisements "may not be palatable" to everyone in Congress.

Julia Dahl

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