Surgeon General Nominee Faces Tough Probing on Capitol Hill

The president's pick to be the nation's top doctor faces a day of tough questions about his views on sex and science.

President Bush had hoped Dr. James Holsinger, nominated in May to become surgeon general, could focus his efforts on childhood obesity. But before he can take office, Holsinger faces a gantlet of liberal Democrats who are eager to poke and prod and criticize his views on homosexuality, birth control and sex education.

Last month, gay rights groups attacked Holsinger's nomination after unearthing a paper he wrote 16 years ago titled "The Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality" in which he argued homosexuality is unnatural and unhealthy.

Those views don't sit well with many Democrats serving on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, which will hold Holsinger's nomination hearing Thursday morning, particularly not the committee's chairman, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a longtime advocate for gay and lesbian rights.

Senate Liberals Express Reservations

Membership on the committee reads like a who's who of liberals in the Senate -- including three presidential candidates eager to befriend the gay and lesbian community during this primary season: Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

Last month, Obama said he would at least listen to Holsinger's testimony but expressed "serious reservations about nominating someone who would inject his own anti-gay ideology into critical decisions about the health and well-being of our nation."

Medical Groups Declare Opposition

Some medical groups have also sounded alarms.

Wednesday, the American Public Health Association formally declared its opposition to Holsinger's nomination for only the second time in the groups 135-year history and the first time since 1981.The APHA declared its opposition Wednesday in separate letters to Kennedy and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo, the ranking Republican on the committee.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the 50,000-member APHA. wrote that "As our nation's most trusted adviser and leading educator on health, the surgeon general plays a vital role in promoting health, preventing disease and protecting the public. Scientific objectivity must be the standard for any nominee."

Continued Benjamin, "We cannot support a nominee with discredited and non-evidence-based views on sexuality," wrote Benjamin. "While we have no doubt that Dr. Holsinger has made positive contributions throughout his medical and public health career, we believe his previously expressed views on sexuality are inconsistent with mainstream medicine and public health practice."

Holsinger's Controversial Paper

Holsinger, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, did not return a call for comment. The administration has said it wants Holsinger, a former secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, to focus on childhood obesity.

His controversial 1991 paper argues that "[a]natomically the vagina is designed to receive the penis" while the anus and rectum -- which "contain no natural lubricating function" -- are not. "The rectum is incapable of mechanical protection against abrasion and severe damage ... can result if objects that are large, sharp or pointed are inserted into the rectum," Holsinger wrote.

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