Tuesday, July 10, 2007

America's Next Top Doctor

The confirmation hearings for America's Next Top Doctor are in a couple of days, so hopefully you will start to hear something about that in the media. The first big story I came across came by way of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing where the former Surgeon General spoke. From what I can gather, Dr. Richard Carmona, a Bush appointee, was interested in applying scientific evidence to the practice of medicine and public health. He was most notably silenced on his perspectives concerning human embryonic stem cell research, and a commitment to comprehensive sex education.
Carmona reported that his Surgeon General predecessors - Republican and Democratic appointees - told him, "We have never seen it as partisan, as malicious, as vindictive, as mean-spirited as it is today, and you clearly have it worse than anyone's had."
It is sad how familiar this refrain has become. From his prepared comments (I recommend listening to these words from his own mouth in an online NPR segment):
"The reality is that the nation’s doctor has been marginalized and relegated to a position with no independent budget, and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas. Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological, or political agenda is ignored, marginalized, or simply buried."
For respecting the principle that public health should be based in sound science rather than a political agenda, Carmona's term was not renewed. Let's see if Dr. James Holsinger, the next appointee in line for this will be able to toe the Administration's line. If he does, he deserves to be sacked in 2008. If he doesn't, good for him. Holsinger might be facing an uphill battle; comments denigrating homosexuality have already earned him two 'no' votes on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, who will be holding the confirmation hearings this week.

Update 7/13/07: Yesterday, Dr. Holsinger testified for the first time. Of note was this statement referring to an anti-gay position paper he wrote for the Methodist Church in the early '90s:
"First of all, the paper does not represent where I am today. It does not represent who I am today," Holsinger replied. He said he was not anti-gay, and that he wrote the paper in response to a request from religious scholars who wanted him to summarize the medical literature.
Which scientist among us has never changed his or her mind in the face of evidence that contradicts previous assumptions or hypotheses? Isn't the point of bringing science and/or rationality into the political process so that people will change their minds to adopt a truer course of action. Somehow this always gets mixed up in that political character flaw known as flip-flop.

Carmoma's prepared remarks to the committee are available here.
A nice NPR review of Holsinger's testimony is here.

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