In Washington, politics trumps science. Even science related to public health issues. While that may not surprise some people, it should anger you. According to the official Surgeon General's website, "The Surgeon General serves as America's chief health educator by providing Americans the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of illness and injury." It's a shame, then, when presidents past and present have decided to suppress scientific information in favor of ideology or politics. This should not be allowed to continue.
According to an article in The New York Times, many of the past few Surgeons General have been used more for politics than for public health information dissemination. And, yes, Clinton did it, too. His Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher, was asked not to release a report that showed that needle-exchange programs actually worked to help reduce the spread of disease. To his credit, he released th report anyway. While I find the Clinton Administration's actions on this deplorable, I can at least understand the politics of it. A report like that would make them appear to be "soft on drugs", and would give the Republicans political ammunition to distort reality (which I believe they would do in a heartbeat.) And I applaud Dr. Satcher for doing the right thing. Many who oppose needle-exchange programs are completely clueless when it comes to drug addiction. They do not understand that a drug addicts you to it, not the other way around. Imagine being told that you couldn't have your morning cup of coffee any more and that you would just have to "be strong". It's not simply a matter of having or lacking will power. It goes beyond that.
Dr. C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General in the Reagan Administration, felt political pressure, too. The Reagans, who believed that the way to avoid anything unpleasant, including sex, was to "just say 'no'", did not want Dr. Koop to discuss AIDS. This is especially sad because the AIDS crisis became a serious problem during that time, and many people who contracted AIDS or became HIV-positive, were ostracized out of an ignorance of what caused the disease. To Dr. Koop's credit, he discussed it anyway. I believe that doing so helped educate the public about the fact that homosexual sex was not the only way one contracted AIDS, nor was intravenous drug use. The late, great tennis star, Arthur Ashe, contracted the virus through a blood transfusion while having a heart operation. I believe that Dr. Koop's speaking up may have saved countless lives. How many more might have been saved had he been allowed to carry out the mandate of his office?
But to me, the worst of the bunch of presidents has been our current one, George W. Bush. According to his former Surgeon General, Dr. Richard H. Carmona, on issue after issue the administration made decisions about important public health issues based not on scientific considerations, but on political ones. “I was told to stay away from those because we’ve already decided which way we want to go,” Dr. Carmona said, as if science was a subject decided by politics and not empirical evidence. No topic, it seemed, however controversial or important, escaped the Bushies' pursuit of ideology over science. Even the stem cell debate. From the article:
When stem cells became a focus of debate, Dr. Carmona said he proposed that his office offer guidance “so that we can have, if you will, informed consent.”
“I was told to stand down and not speak about it,” he said. “It was removed from my speeches.”
The Bush administration rejected the advice of many top scientists on this subject, including that of the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Elias Zerhouni.
Is it any wonder now why more federal money hasn't been put into research? These people equate stem cell research with abortion, which they equate with human murder. So, to them, destroying a cell that would have been destroyed anyway, as often happens when couples trying to conceive through artificial insemination have succeeded, is tantamount to murder. The stupid thing is that even though the cells won't be used for scientific research that could benefit all mankind, they'll still be destroyed anyway, benefitting no one, and saving no one's life. And all because of an ideological position on abortion. Thank you very much, Religious Right.
And it doesn't stop with stem cells. Topics such as healthcare in correctional facilities, global warming, second-hand smoke, and even the Special Olympics (among other subjects) have been subjected to a refusal to see science as the final word, and pure ideology as being the preferred choice for public health issues. As if this wasn't all bad enough, the Bush administration is lying about the whole thing:
Bill Hall, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said that the administration disagreed with Dr. Carmona’s statements. “It has always been this administration’s position that public health policy should be rooted in sound science,” Mr. Hall said.
Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, said the surgeon general “is the leading voice for the health of all Americans.”
“It’s disappointing to us,” Ms. Lawrimore said, “if he failed to use this position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies he thought were in the best interests of the nation.”
Even now, hearings are set to begin shortly for confirmation of the new Surgeon General, and the Bushies have nominated a man, Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr., who believes that homosexual sex is "unnatural and unhealthy". Both points are debatable. Bonobo monkeys have been observed in the wild having homosexual sex, and the use of condoms makes sex safer and healthier regardless of the partners. It's clear why this administration chose this man. Gays bad, Bush good. Gotta please the base. Political ideology is better for public health information than empirical science. Never mind that many people will likely die unnecessarily because of this administration's "win-at-all-costs" style of politics. Do we have to wait until Jan 2009 to be rid of these people?