Surgeon General Nominee Will Face Questions

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Dr. James Holsinger Jr.

  

Born: May 11, 1939 in Kansas City, Kan.

  

Medical School: Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C., 1964

  

Ph.D: In Anatomy and Physiology, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Duke University; Durham, N.C., 1968

  

Formerly:

— Chancellor, Albert B. Chandler Medical Center, University of Kentucky, 1994 - 2003

  

— Director, Kentucky Health Service, University of Kentucky, 1994 – 96

  

— Chief Medical Director, Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C., 1990 – 93

  

— Secretary, Cabinet for Health Services, Commonwealth of Kentucky, Frankfort, Kentucky, 2003 - 05.

  

— Major General, Medical Corps, U.S. Army Reserve, 1989

  

Currently: Retired Cardiologist, Retired Major General of Army Reserve, Professor at College of Public Health at University of Kentucky; graduate Faculty Member at the Graduate School of the University of Kentucky.

  

Political Appointments: 13th Chief Medical Director of the Veterans Health Administration, by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

  

Nominated: U.S. Surgeon General by President George W. Bush in May 2007.

A Senate committee on Thursday will consider President Bush's nomination for the next surgeon general. But there are questions about both the job, and the candidate.

Dr. James Holsinger himself hasn't talked publicly since his nomination was announced; that's traditional. But he has indicated that his big issue would be a relatively nonpolitical one: childhood obesity.

The stage for Thursday's hearing was set earlier this week when the most recent Surgeon General, Richard Carmona, testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Carmona said that the Bush administration kept him from issuing reports and giving speeches on topics he thought crucial, such as the value of condoms in avoiding unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Former surgeons general C. Everett Koop and David Satcher also testified that they had to fight the administrations that appointed them.

Holsinger once headed Kentucky's health department, and at the federal level, was medical director of the Veterans Health Administration. He also held a variety of jobs at the University of Kentucky, including chancellor.

Steven Wyatt is head of the school of public health, which Holsinger helped found. He says Holsinger will stick to his guns.

"If he were not allowed to do that, I believe he would be someone who would stand up and say, 'This job is not for me,'" Wyatt says.

Wyatt says that as head of Kentucky's health department, Holsinger successfully fought off naysayers to find funding for education programs for poor people with chronic diseases.

At the hearing Thursday, senators are likely to grill Holsinger about what public health measures he would push as surgeon general.

They are also going to want to know about something he wrote in 1991 for the United Methodist Church: a paper on the medical aspects of homosexuality, in which he said that injury and diseases are especially prevalent in sex between men. He also described such sex as biologically unnatural. Several national gay groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, are opposing Holsinger's nomination.

"He has said he simply put this information together and passed it on," says Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "It seems incredibly irresponsible for someone who is allegedly a health care professional to simply put out this info and pass it on without it either being his views. Or if they weren't his views, in some ways suggesting they weren't his views."

But Maria Kemplin says concerns that Holsinger is anti-gay are unfounded. She worked as a project manager in Holsinger's office when he was chancellor of the University of Kentucky. She's also lesbian. While she was working for Holsinger, two state legislators pressured the university to drop a conference on gay and lesbian health.

"And Dr. Holsinger would not let that happen," Kemplin says. "He was adamant that it was a matter of public health, and it was an important issue, and we had the session."

Still, concerns remain. The American Public Health Association has come out against his nomination, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America is questioning his commitment to science over ideology.

If the committee approves Holsinger's nomination, it still has to go on to the full Senate for confirmation.

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