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Surgeon general nominee under fire

Ky. cardiologist is biased against gays, groups say

Some fear Holsinger may favor ideology over science. Some fear Holsinger may favor ideology over science.

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- President Bush's nominee for surgeon general, Kentucky cardiologist Dr. James Holsinger, has come under fire from gay rights groups for, among other things, voting to expel a lesbian pastor from the United Methodist Church and writing in 1991 that gay sex is unnatural and unhealthy.

Also, Holsinger helped found a Methodist congregation that, according to gay rights activists, believes homosexuality is a matter of choice and can be "cured."

"He has a pretty clear bias against gays and lesbians," said Christina Gilgor, director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, a gay rights group. "This ideology flies in the face of current scientific medical studies. That makes me uneasy that he rejects science and promotes ideology."

Holsinger, 68, has declined all interview requests.

Holsinger served as Kentucky's health secretary and chancellor of the University of Kentucky's medical center. He taught at several medical schools and spent more than three decades in the Army Reserve, retiring in 1993 as a major general.

His supporters, including fellow doctors, faculty members, and state officials, said he would never let his theological views affect his medical ones.

"Jim is able, as most of us are in medicine, to separate feelings that we have from our responsibility in taking care of patients," said Douglas Scutchfield, a professor of public health at the University of Kentucky.

Blair Jones, a White House spokesman, said in a telephone interview last night that Holsinger had spent his career in public service and taking care of others.

"On numerous occasions, Dr. Holsinger has taken up the banner for underrepresented populations, and he will continue to be a strong advocate for these groups and all Americans," Jones said.

Holly Babin, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Holsinger's writings reflected scientific data from the 1980s.

"It should be noted that in 1991, homosexuals were banned from the military and several years before that, homosexuality and Haitian nationality were considered risk factors for HIV/AIDS," Babin said in a statement. "Over the last 20 years, a clearer understanding of these issues has been achieved. Any new compilation of scientific information on health issues facing homosexual populations would have a substantially different focus."

In announcing Holsinger as his choice for America's top doctor May 24, Bush said the physician will focus on educating the public about childhood obesity.

The previous surgeon general was Dr. Richard Carmona, whose term was allowed to expire last summer. Carmona issued an unprecedented report condemning secondhand smoke.

Holsinger received his bachelor's degree from the University of Kentucky, master's degrees from the University of South Carolina and Asbury Theological Seminary, and a doctorate and medical degree from Duke University.

Scutchfield said Holsinger has advocated expanded stem cell research, in opposition to many conservatives, and also has shown political courage in this tobacco-producing state by supporting higher cigarette taxes to curb teen smoking.

Governor Ernie Fletcher commended Holsinger for working to fight obesity and other health problems in this Appalachian state, which ranks near the bottom in many categories. "He helped get the ball rolling and focusing on healthy lifestyles," Fletcher said.

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