Dr. Gupta’s unhealthy record

January 14, 2009

IT IS beyond dismaying that President-elect Barack Obama would choose CNN pundit Sanjay Gupta as the next surgeon general.

Gupta is an opponent of the single-payer health care reform that so many Obama supporters rightly champion. He can't even lay claim to journalistic integrity: In 2007, he made headlines--the wrong kind of headlines for CNN's chief medical correspondent--when his "fact-checking" of Michael Moore's acclaimed documentary Sicko turned out to be riddled with errors.

Nor can he claim to have the public's interest in mind when it comes to health care policy. His record of hawking the big pharmaceuticals' dubious--and sometimes deadly--products is legend.

For instance, in 2003, Gupta used his on-air platform to pooh-pooh the idea that Merck's Vioxx increased the risk of heart attack, stroke and death. According to FDA estimates, some 28,000 people died before Merck finally withdrew this lethal pill from the market.

People rallied behind Obama and swept him ahead of Clinton in the primaries and McCain in the general elections out of a belief that he represents real change: change not only from the administration of George W. Bush, but also from the administration of Bill Clinton (who promoted HMOs and managed care as the "cure" for the United States' escalating health care woes) and Jimmy Carter (who signed into the law the Bayh-Dole Act, enabling Big Pharma to patent and profit from drugs developed in federally funded research labs). Merck's favorite spokesperson is not who people had in mind for "change."

If Obama wants a surgeon general with a record of speaking and acting in the public interest, he has a robust list from which to choose.

That list includes Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, who have also witnessed firsthand at Cambridge Hospital in Massachusetts the devastation of diminished funds for public health care.

Or Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, whose book The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It, an exposé of the outrageously profitable and negligent pharmaceutical industry, also ends with a concrete to-do list of possible and necessary reforms.

Millions rallied over the long election season in the hopes of an end to war and, instead, funding of health care, education and other needed programs for the good of us all. Sanjay Gupta is as far as one can be from representing the fulfillment of those hopes.

It is up to us to build a movement that can win a national health care program and insist on a surgeon general whose career was made in public health care, not on CNN.
Nancy Welch, Burlington, Vt.

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