Conservative groups oppose nominee for surgeon general Two experts invoked say they were misrepresented

January 21, 1998|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- A group of prominent social conservatives called on President Clinton yesterday to withdraw the nomination of Dr. David Satcher to be surgeon general.

To help marshal their case, they invoked the views of the American Medical Association and a prominent public health physician who works for an arm of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen.

However, when contacted later, both the president-elect of the AMA and the physician disputed how their views were represented and said they strongly support Satcher's nomination.

The leaders of two of the more prominent social conservative organizations, the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council, along with Republican Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, said they would mount a campaign to scuttle the nomination.

"We oppose the nomination because we consider it a direct assault on the values of millions of pro-family conservatives across the country," said Randy Tate, a former Washington congressman who is the new executive director of the Christian Coalition.

Each group had a detailed list of reasons it opposed Satcher, including the doctor's approval of some late-term abortions, endorsement of distributing condoms in schools, approval of providing family planning assistance to teen-agers without parental consent and proposals to provide clean needles to drug addicts.

Ashcroft has placed a formal hold on the nomination, a practice in which an individual senator can delay action indefinitely on a nomination or a bill.

He said he would consider all means, including a filibuster, to defeat Satcher.

The Missouri Republican, who is considering running for the Republican presidential nomination based largely on his appeal to social conservatives, charged that Satcher was "more concerned with the secrecy of his experiments than the lives of his patients."

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said, "It's rather late in the day for some Republican senators to invent excuses to be against someone who is superbly qualified to direct this nation's efforts to improve public health."

The disputed experiments involved federally funded studies in Africa and Asia in which one group of pregnant women infected with the AIDS virus was given the drug AZT, while another group was given a placebo to determine whether their babies would contract the disease. Some of the experiments were planned by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University.

Gary Bauer, executive director of the Family Research Council, which claims a membership of 400,000, said Satcher's nomination should be withdrawn because the experiments were "something a good and decent nation shouldn't tolerate."

Satcher, in his capacity as director for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approved the experiments.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, said that while he had for months expressed opposition to the experiments, it represented an honest difference of opinion with Satcher. He said he fully supports the nomination.

"I think he'd make an excellent surgeon general," Wolfe said.

Dr. Nancy Dickey, AMA president-elect, said the studies in Africa and Asia were "scientifically well-founded" and carried out with "informed consent."

Opposition to Satcher represents the third time that social conservatives have attempted to undermine Clinton's nominations for surgeon general.

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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