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    Thursday, October 10, 2002

    ..and Patience Worketh Endurance: Yesterday, Maureen Dowd attacked the candidate being considered for the job of running the FDA panel on women’s health policy. At first glance, I was horrified. Having an advocate of faith healing at the FDA would be like having an alternative medicine department at the NIH. But, as I read on, I realized that Ms. Dowd is indulging in hystrionics. He's not a faith healer. She sees quotes from the scriptures and the word “Jesus” and immediately gets a bad case of the vapors. Citing his nonmedical books, As Jesus Cared for Women, Stress and the Woman's Body, and The Reproduction Revolution: A Christian Appraisal of Sexuality, Reproductive Technologies, and the Family, she makes him out to be a whacko evangelical who’s out to put women back in reproductive shackles where they belong. But, the quotes she uses aren’t very convincing:

    "Jesus stood up for women at a time when women were second-class citizens," Dr. Hager says. "I often say, if you are liberated, a woman's libber, you can thank Jesus for that."

    And so we can. We can also thank Him for the end of slavery. It was Christianity that gave birth to the Enlightenment that in turn gave birth to the freedom and rights we take for granted in this modern world.

    She goes on to quote a comparison he makes in one of his books between a patient and the Samaritan woman at the well:

    He writes about a young patient named Sparkle who gets a job at a strip joint in Kentucky and becomes promiscuous and gets several sexually transmitted diseases. Sparkle reminds him of "a woman Jesus met who was generally known in her town as a sinner, but whom Jesus saw through eyes of love."

    I still can’t figure out what’s wrong with this, other than it’s written for a Christian audience and has the words “Jesus” and “love” . What would MoDo rather the doctor do? Denounce his patient as a whore unworthy of his attention? Ignore the fact that her chosen lifestyle is harming her health? Presumably, he was using the comparison to illustrate that we are all worthy of God’s love and therefore each other’s love and regard, no matter what our pasts may hold.

    She does cite a kind of creepy suggestion in one of the books for avoiding the temptation of lust - imagine Christ as a lover. I admit that the “Jesus as lover” thing is over the top, but there’s a long tradition in Christianity of portraying Christ as a metaphysical lover, so it isn’t as creepy as it initially appears. It’s just that it’s couched in the simple language of evangelical theology rather than the grand phrases of mainstream theology.

    After disparaging him for his Christianity, she delivers her fatal thrust, alluding to an essay that appeared in his third book. It’s an essay that suggests that it’s unethical to use oral contraceptives because of their abortifacient properties. There’s only one problem. Dr. Hager didn’t write it. He doesn’t even agree with it. In fact, he prescribes birth control pills in his practice, although he doesn’t perform abortions, insert IUDs, or use RU-486. Apparently, the pro-choice litmus test is to be extended beyond judicial appointments, to scientific panel appointments as well.

    It’s his position on RU-486 that really bothers MoDo. She sees his appointment as a Machiavellian move by Bush to abolish RU-486, and to extend the recent hormone replacement study to taint oral contraceptives. The pure and pristine scientific reputation of the FDA is at stake! It doesn’t seem to have dawned on her that RU-486 was approved by the previous adminstration in response to interest group pressure, or that the recent hormone replacement therapy trial that has scared everyone off hormones, and by her extension the pill, was initiated under Clinton.

    Reading her column, you can’t help but get the distinct impression that Maureen Dowd is acutely uncomfortable with anyone who lives by their religious convictions. That’s the main thrust of her argument against Dr. Hager - that he doesn’t separate his life into secular and religious components the way Cuomo Catholics do. (Cuomo Catholics are people, usually prominent politicians from New York, who use their religion only for reputation enhancement and ignore all of its moral precepts whenever it’s politically convenient to do so.) It’s just not hip to live life honestly - it’s medeival. Yet, who could be so cold and uncaring as to treat sexually transmitted diseases day in and day out, as Dr. Hager does, and not advise their patients to avoid promiscuity?

    By concentrating on books that Dr. Hager wrote for a popular audience as spiritual aides rather than medical treatises, Dowd ignores his professional work:

    - “Comparative study of mezlocillin versus cefotaxime single dose prophylaxis in patients undergoing vaginal hysterectomy”

    - “The choice of an antibiotic for women undergoing non-elective cesarean section.”

    - “Nonimmune hydrops fetalis associated with maternal infection with syphilis.”

    - “Modes of practice in OB-GYN infections.”

    - “ The treatment of sporadic acute puerperal mastitis.”

    Their titles aren’t as catchy, or as scary, and I’m sure they aren’t as fun to read as his works for lay audiences, but they are a more accurate reflection of his professional qualifications for the job. They don’t serve MoDo’s purpose, though. You can’t scare people with words like “hydrops fetalis” or “puerperal mastitis” half as much as you can scare them with the word “Jesus.”

    posted by Sydney on 10/10/2002 07:39:00 AM 0 comments


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