September 2007 Church & State | People & Events

Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona told a congressional panel in July that theology and ideology trumped science in the Bush White House.

Carmona, testifying July 10 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the Bush administration had muzzled him on several public health issues.

“Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological or political agenda is often ignored, marginalized or simply buried,” Carmona said. “The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds.”

Continued Carmona, “Much of the [policy] discussion was being driven by theology, ideology [and] preconceived beliefs that were scientifically incorrect.” Carmona said he encountered resistance “at every turn,” especially in sex education decisions.

Carmona, a former professor of surgery and public health at the University of Arizona, told the panel he was not permitted to express his views on teen sex education.

“There was already a policy in place,” he said, “that did not want to hear the science but wanted to just preach abstinence, which I felt was scientifically incorrect.”

Another area of conflict was stem-cell research. Carmona said he was told to “stand down and not to speak about” embryonic stem-cell research when Congress debated a funding bill last year. Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services removed positive references to the research from his speeches.

“I thought, ‘This is a perfect example of the surgeon general being able to step forward, educate the American public,’” Carmona said. “I was blocked at every turn. I was told the decision had already been made – ‘Stand down. Don’t talk about it.’ That information was removed from my speeches.”

Carmona told the panel that the American people through their elected representatives should ensure that his successors are nominated “based on merit and without political, ideological or theological filters.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House committee, called on Congress to make certain the office of surgeon general is isolated from politics, reported The Washington Post.

“We shouldn’t allow the surgeon general to be politicized,” Waxman said. “It is the doctor to the nation. That person needs to have credibility, independence and to speak about science.”