Former Indiana governor Otis R. Bowen, sounding as benign and reassuring as the country doctor he used to be, easily sailed through a Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday on his nomination as secretary of health and human services.
Chairman Robert W. Packwood (R-Ore.) predicted that Bowen's nomination to succeed Margaret M. Heckler will be approved by the committee this morning and by the Senate by the end of the week, perhaps later today. He added that, viewing Bowen's background and FBI check, "The man does not have a blemish."
Heckler, meanwhile, moved just as easily through a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on her nomination as ambassador to Ireland, receiving a warm introduction to the committee from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and praise from Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and members Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-R.I.). Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) said a committee vote is expected today.
Bowen was not asked about abortion. Members said they knew of his stated opposition to abortion except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape and incest.
Nor was he asked about his widely discussed revelation that he gave the drug dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) to his first wife to ease her pain when she was dying of cancer, even though the drug had not been approved by the government for that general use. Packwood said after the hearing that, according to the FBI report and other information, Bowen did nothing illegal.
In response to senators' questions, Bowen said:
*He supports government expenditures for family planning programs. While "as a father I would like to know" if a daughter is being given advice or treatment on contraception and pregnancy at a clinic, "I will follow the law" as stated by Congress and interpreted by the courts and not impose any parental-notification requirement in the program that is not authorized.
*While a Medicare commission he headed endorsed the concept of "living wills" -- allowing people, in advance, to abjure heroic medical treatments to keep them alive temporarily when no hope is left -- that is not the same thing as mercy killing done by others, which he opposes, and he "absolutely" does not believe older people should be killed to save resources for the young.
*He favors imposing a small added charge -- $12 a month -- for Medicare premiums in order to finance an unlimited number of days of benefits and other guarantees against "catastrophic illness" costs for Medicare patients. In addition, he favors allowing working people to set up tax-free "individual medical accounts" (similar to Individual Retirement Accounts) to finance nursing home and related costs in old age. He believes home health care is preferable to and less costly than putting people in institutions but must be carefuly monitored against abuses.
*"I suspect I would oppose" making Social Security an independent agency because many other HHS programs are linked to it and "it makes sense to keep them together." He has an understanding with the administration that he can go directly to President Reagan if he and the Office of Management and Budget are in conflict over money and policies.
Despite Bowen's statement on living wills, a group called Citizens United Resisting Euthanasia and one called the National Democratic Policy Committee, headed by Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. as chairman emeritus, issued statements opposing the nomination on grounds that living wills are the same as euthanasia, or mercy killings.