Judging Henry Foster

April 01, 1995

Sen. Phil Gramm has said he will filibuster if need be to defeat the nomination of Dr. Henry Foster Jr. to be surgeon general of the United States. That shows just how distorted judgment can become when presidential fever heats up a candidate's brain. The Republican senator from Texas is saying that if a majority of a Republican-controlled Senate favors a Democratic president's nominee, he will try to prevent the nomination from coming to a vote.

Such a tactic would be pure grandstanding. It will help Senator Gramm with the most far-out of the anti-abortion crowd. But a lot of other Republican voters must wonder about his sense of proportion and propriety.

A thoughtful presidential-wannabee should say that his decision the Foster nomination will await the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee's hearings, vote and report. That committee is chaired by the moderate, pro-choice Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, but it has several very conservative Republican members, including freshman Sen. Bill Frist, a Tennessee surgeon who has known Dr. Foster professionally for many years. Its hearings begin May 2.

Our own view as of now is that Dr. Foster's most talked about liability is a non-issue. He performed a number of abortions in a long career as an OB/GYN physician. If, as seems the case, all were legal and safe, it would be unfair of a senator to deny, for that reason alone, a president the nominee of his choice. Dr. Foster would have, in fact, been untrue to his profession if he had refused to perform abortions for patients in need of them.

Two other charges have been leveled at Dr. Foster. One is that he gave silent approval to an experiment in which black men were denied treatment for syphilis while being led to believe they were being treated. A second is that he performed sterilizations on mentally retarded women.

The committee needs to investigate these charges fully and fairly, since they do go to the question of Dr. Foster's staying within the legal and ethical bounds expected of a member of his profession. If he did stay within those bounds, then even those nTC who find the practices objectionable, have no legitimate grounds for voting against the nomination -- and certainly none for trying to prevent the full Senate from exercising its responsibility to vote for or against confirmation.

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