Dr. Holsinger has the absolute right to believe whatever he wants about what is or is not compatible with Christian teaching. He does not have the right to inflict those views on our national health policies as surgeon general cloaked, as the editorial rightly calls it, "in a veneer of science."
A Nominee’s Abnormal Views
The Senate Health Committee will have to dig beneath the surface on Thursday to consider the nomination of Dr. James Holsinger to be surgeon general. Dr. Holsinger has high-level experience as a health administrator, but there are disturbing indications that he is prejudiced against homosexuals.
Though routinely called “the nation’s top doctor,” the surgeon general is a midlevel official who oversees the 6,000 uniformed professionals in the Public Health Service. His main mission is to serve as “America’s chief health educator,” with potentially enormous capacity to shape public opinion.
Dr. Holsinger served for 26 years in the Department of Veterans Affairs, where he rose to be chief medical director and under secretary for health. After retiring, he became chancellor of the University of Kentucky Medical Center and, briefly, secretary for health and family services in Kentucky.
Although he is a Christian conservative, he is difficult to pigeonhole ideologically. He testified against an anti-cloning bill in Kentucky that he felt would impede research, a position at odds with that of the president. He backed a session on lesbian health issues at a state health conference despite protests from angry legislators, favored raising cigarette taxes in a tobacco-growing state and worked to limit junk food in schools.
What’s troubling is the view he once expressed — and may still hold — on homosexuality, through his activities as a lay leader in the United Methodist Church. On the church’s judicial council, he supported a minister who refused to allow a gay man to join his congregation and argued that a lesbian minister should be removed because church doctrine deems the practice of homosexuality to be “incompatible with Christian teaching.” His supporters say these rulings should not be read as his personal views because the council can’t change church doctrine.
However, some council members opposed his views, and the bishops later rejected one decision.
His strongest statement on homosexuality can be found in a murky, loosely reasoned paper that he wrote for a church committee in 1991. Titled “Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality,” the paper purported to be a scientific and medical review. It argued that gay sex was abnormal on anatomical and physiological grounds and unhealthy, in that anal sex can lead to rectal injuries and sexually transmitted diseases. Dr. Holsinger did not brand the large number of heterosexual women who engage in anal sex as abnormal, failed to acknowledge the huge burden of disease spread heterosexually and implied that women are more likely than men to avoid injuries with generous lubrication.
The Bush administration says the white paper reflected the scientific understanding of the time, but it reads like a veneer of science cloaking an aversion to homosexuality. The committee should examine whether Dr. Holsinger cherry-picked the literature or represented it objectively. Most important, it must determine whether Dr. Holsinger holds these benighted views today. The Senate should not confirm a surgeon general who considers practicing homosexuals abnormal and diseased.