Dr. Dodgy

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

DR. JAMES W. Holsinger Jr. wants to be the next surgeon general of the United States. On paper, he's nearly perfect. His distinguished career spans nearly 40 years in Kentucky and Washington, D.C. If confirmed, Dr. Holsinger said, his three priorities would be combating smoking and childhood obesity and improving how the public health system responds to emergencies -- excellent goals. But his prurient 1991 paper for the Methodist Church on what he imagined to be the sex lives of gay men has gummed up his effort to become the nation's top doc.

The hope was that his confirmation hearing last week would bring some clarity to Dr. Holsinger's views on homosexuality. No such luck. Instead, he expressed his "deep appreciation for the humanity of everyone, regardless of their personal circumstances or their sexual orientation." That's excellent, but it doesn't answer the question.

"Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality" is a six-page romp through sexual practices that would be extreme for anyone regardless of sexual orientation. Yet Dr. Holsinger ascribed these practices to all gay men and decreed that the practices marked all homosexuals as promiscuous and diseased. The idea that two people of the same sex could establish a relationship based on love was never broached. Instead, he concluded his NC-17 report by saying the hardware store popularity of male and female pipe fittings proves the primacy of heterosexuality.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) did his best to show that the scientific underpinnings of Dr. Holsinger's report were beyond weak. He pointed out that one physician whose work was featured wrote him to complain of the paper's "unscientific, biased, and incredibly poor scholarship." Mr. Kennedy said it "cherry-picks and misuses data"; for instance, much of the information was culled from "emergency room and trauma studies" -- hardly a representative sample of gay men.

Dr. Holsinger struck a that-was-then-this-is-now pose. "The paper does not represent where I am today," he said. Fine. But the question remains: Does Dr. Holsinger still believe that homosexuality is unnatural and unhealthy? If the answer is yes, he should not be confirmed.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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