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Bush nominee runs into crossfire
Question of the Day
Homosexual advocacy groups are objecting strongly to President Bush's nominee for surgeon general, but Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr. also faces questions from conservative groups about his views on human cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research.
Tom McCluskey, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, said that Dr. Holsinger spoke to a Kentucky state legislature committee in 2002 and "testified in support of loosening regulations around cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research."
"We're not supportive of his nomination right now," Mr. McCluskey said, adding that "we've been told he's come around on the issue, but the surgeon general is such a strong bully pulpit position that we want to be sure."
The White House said that Dr. Holsinger agrees with the president's opposition to the use of federal funds for embryonic-stem-cell research and cloning.
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said that Dr. Holsinger's 2002 testimony against a ban on cloning was because "he felt that the penalties proposed in the bill were disproportionately severe on patients and researchers."
"Since 2002, there have been significant advances in new techniques for potentially deriving pluripotent stem cells without cloning or destroying embryos. As such, Dr. Holsinger believes the president's cloning policy is appropriate," Miss Lawrimore said.
Miss Lawrimore also said that as the nation's top health educator, Dr. Holsinger would not help formulate stem-cell or cloning policies.
"His main focus will be childhood obesity, so he will not be involved in determining policy related to stem-cell research," Miss Lawrimore said.
Dr. Holsinger will have a confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
Mr. Kennedy has said he is "disappointed" with Mr. Bush's nomination, without fully opposing Dr. Holsinger, whom he called "an individual whose record appears to guarantee a polarizing and divisive nomination process."
Dr. Holsinger, 68, is a retired major general in the U.S. Army Reserve who worked for 26 years in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs before becoming chancellor of the University of Kentucky Medical Center in 1994.
In 2003, Dr. Holsinger was appointed to be Kentucky's secretary of health and family services.
There appears to be little overt support for Dr. Holsinger among the committee's 21 members, largely because Dr. Holsinger has been accused of being anti-homosexual.
Two of the committee's three Democratic presidential candidates — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut — oppose Dr. Holsinger. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said he has "serious reservations."
Five other Democrats did not respond to requests for comment and two did not take a position.
In addition, the five Republicans who did respond to requests for comment — including ranking member Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming — were noncommittal and gave no indications of support for Dr. Holsinger.
The anti-homosexual charge centers on a paper Dr. Holsinger wrote in 1991, when he was chief medical director of the Veterans Health Administration, that said homosexual sex posed higher risks of disease and bodily damage than heterosexual sex.
In addition, Dr. Holsinger is a leader in a Lexington, Ky., Methodist church that, in addition to working with the poor, also works with former homosexuals who want to live as heterosexuals. He also voted in 2005, while serving on the United Methodist Church Judicial Council, to remove a lesbian from the pastorate.
Joe Solmonese, president of the homosexual advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said Dr. Holsinger is "unworthy" to be surgeon general because of his "anti-gay beliefs."
Conservative activist Paul Weyrich, in a recent column, called these charges an "outrageous" violation of constitutional prohibitions against religious discrimination in considering candidates or nominees for public office.
In addition, a homosexual woman named Maria Kemplin, who worked under Dr. Holsinger at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, wrote a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, stating that her former employer is "a man who does not discriminate."
Miss Kemplin, who called herself a "liberal Democrat and a member of gay and women's rights organizations," said Dr. Holsinger supported a session on lesbian health at a women's conference, and also helped her find a specialist for her artificially inseminated pregnancy.
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop also wrote a letter to Mr. Kennedy in support of Dr. Holsinger, pointing out that he has never before "written on behalf of a nominee."
"I know that Dr. Holsinger will ... serve as a strong voice for the public health needs of all Americans," Mr. Koop said.
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