US President George W. Bush's nominee for the country's top doctor faces a contentious confirmation hearing because of his writings about homosexuality and health.
In advance of the Senate hearing yesterday, gay rights groups, the American Public Health Association and 35 members of the House were lining up in opposition to James Holsinger's nomination for surgeon general.
The Kentucky doctor garnered the support of a prominent former surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, as well as the American College of Physicians.
Holsinger wrote a paper in 1991 for a United Methodist Church committee that gay groups and others interpret as saying that homosexuals face a greater risk of disease and that homosexuality runs counter to anatomical truths.
In the paper, which focuses extensively on human anatomy and the reproductive system, Holsinger said the "varied sexual practices of homosexual men have resulted in a diverse and expanded concept of sexually transmitted disease and associated trauma."
Health and Human Services officials said Holsinger was asked more than 17 years ago to compile a survey of peer-reviewed scientific data on health issues facing homosexuals.
"Since then, the science has deepened with continued research on these issues. Dr. Holsinger remains focused on addressing the health of all in need, including gay and lesbian populations, consistent with sound science and the best medical practices," Health and Human Services spokeswoman Christina Pearson said.
If confirmed, Holsinger would succeed Richard Carmona, whose term expired last July. Carmona accused the Bush administration on Tuesday of muzzling him on several hot-button health issues, such as abstinence-only education and embryonic stem cell research. He also said the administration quashed or delayed important health reports for political reasons.
Senator Edward Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate health committee, said Holsinger's record "appears to guarantee a polarizing and divisive nomination process."
Kennedy also responded to Carmona's allegations of political interference. He demanded that Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt provide documents that would show various political appointees' interaction with the surgeon general's office. Representative Henry Waxman, a Democrat, also demanded documents associated with reports Carmona was preparing on issues such as global health and prisoner health.
Maria Kemplin, a former co-worker of Holsinger's, wrote Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in support of the nomination. Holsinger does not discriminate and "is able to see across divisive issues and relate with integrity to people, no matter their life circumstances," said Kemplin, who described herself as a liberal Democrat and member of gay and women's rights groups.
The American Public Health Association, which represents a broad array of health officials and health educators, said on Wednesday that it cannot support a nominee with discredited views on sexuality.
"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," said Gorges Benjamin, executive director of the association.
Holsinger is a professor from the University of Kentucky's College of Public Health. He also worked for 26 years in a variety of positions at the Veterans Affairs Department, including stints as chief of staff or director at several VA medical centers.