Surgeon General Testifies on Ideology Replacing Science in Bush Administation

Republicans typically bring up fear of “socialized medicine” to attack Democratic proposals to make health care more affordable, even when they remain based upon the private sector. Talk of socialized medicine is meant to evoke thoughts of government, and not doctors, making decisions about medical care. By that criteria, it is the Republicans, not Democrats, who present this problem. It is the Republicans who allow the government to intrude on personal decisions such as abortion, birth control, and even end of life decisions as in the Terri Schiavo case. It is the Republicans who seek to prevent stem cell research. We see another example of this in looking at the Bush administration’s treatment of the Surgeon General. The Washington Post reports:

Former surgeon general Richard H. Carmona yesterday accused the Bush administration of muzzling him on sensitive public health issues, becoming the most prominent voice among several current and former federal science officials who have complained of political interference.

Carmona, a Bush nominee who served from 2002 to 2006, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that political appointees in the administration routinely scrubbed his speeches for politically sensitive content and blocked him from speaking out on public health matters such as stem cell research, abstinence-only sex education and the emergency contraceptive Plan B.

“Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological or political agenda is often ignored, marginalized or simply buried,” he said. “The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds.”

In one such case, Carmona, a former professor of surgery and public health at the University of Arizona, said he was told not to speak out during the national debate over whether the federal government should fund embryonic stem cell research, which President Bush opposes.

“Much of the discussion was being driven by theology, ideology, [and] preconceived beliefs that were scientifically incorrect,” said Carmona, one of three former surgeons general who testified at yesterday’s hearing. “I thought, ‘This is a perfect example of the surgeon general being able to step forward, educate the American public.’ . . . I was blocked at every turn. I was told the decision had already been made — ‘Stand down. Don’t talk about it.’ That information was removed from my speeches.”

This war on science is part of a trend from the Bush administration:

In January, the leader of the National Institutes of Health’s task force on stem cells, Story Landis, said that because of the Bush policy — which aims to protect three-day-old embryos — the nation is “missing out on possible breakthroughs.” And in March, NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni called the Bush policy “shortsighted.”

Last year, NASA scientist James E. Hansen and other federal climate researchers said the Bush administration had made it hard for them to speak in a forthright manner about global warming. In 2005, Susan F. Wood, an assistant FDA commissioner and director of the agency’s Office of Women’s Health, resigned her post, citing her frustration with political interference that was delaying approval of over-the-counter sales of Plan B.

While the Republican war on science has been escalated during the Bush years, there were similar problems in previous administrations, including under Clinton when the Lewinsky scandal might have limited his tolerance for discussions of sexuality and public health. In contrast, Ronald Reagan did resist pressure from Republicans to fire C. Everett Koop for speaking out on AIDS.

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