Jon E. Dougherty is a Missouri-based political science major, author, writer and columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
The pediatrician advising the U.S. government on how best to handle
Elian Gonzalez — who told the press the 6-year-old Cuban refugee is
being “horrendously exploited” and should be “immediately” removed from
Miami relatives’ home — was a member of first lady Hillary
Clinton’s secretive health care task force.
Dr. Irwin Redlener was vice president of the health Professional
Review Group for the White House Task Force on National Health Care
Reform in 1993, according to biographical information posted on the
Children’s Health Fund
website, a child advocacy and health group of which he is president. The
Childrens’ Health Fund was founded by Redlener and pop singer Paul Simon
to advocate for health care for homeless children.
Although very influential, Redlener is seen by critics as a
left-leaning physician-activist. On his website, he refers to himself as
“Pediatrician/Child Advocate Irwin Redlener, M.D.”
Redlener made headlines earlier this week when the details of a letter
he sent to the Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization
Service were made public. In the letter, he recommended the government
turn the boy over to his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez — a viewpoint
shared by federal officials, Attorney General Janet Reno and the first
lady. Mrs. Clinton said she was opposed to congressional legislation
granting Elian permanent U.S. citizenship.
“Elian Gonzalez is now in a state of imminent danger to his physical
and emotional well-being in a home that I consider to be psychologically
abusive,” Redlener wrote in his letter Monday to federal officials.
Redlener was asked by INS Commissioner Doris Meissner to provide
“strategic guidance regarding management of the Elian Gonzalez case,”
and to assemble a team of mental health professionals to establish
“guidelines to ensure an orderly and positive transfer of the child to
the custody of his father,” the letter said.
However, Redlener has been criticized for his analysis, not only
because of his past association with the first lady’s health care reform
movement, but also because his team based its decision on a videotape
showing Elian wagging a finger and shouting that he didn’t want to
return to Cuba. Neither Redlener nor any team members actually met with
the boy or any of his relatives who are currently sheltering him and
seeking to keep him in the U.S.
“In recent days the crisis has taken a profound turn for the worse,”
said the letter. “There are continued, frantic legal maneuverings of the
Miami family, a bevy of new, unfounded allegations of paternal abuse
raised by the custodial family about the father’s former relationship
with Elian and the release of a videotape showing this six-year-old boy
expressing anger and other most unusual behaviors on what appeared to be
a coached, homemade recording.
“All of this has significantly raised the stakes and our level of
concern about Elian’s immediate well-being, particularly since it is
occurring in an environment of radical hysteria,” the letter said.
Redlener and his team recommended that federal officials
“immediately” remove the boy from the home of his relatives, return him
to his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and “the custodial family to
participate in discussions around implementation of reunification
recommendations made by your own mental health consulting team.”
He added: “I believe there is no justification whatsoever to wait any
longer in carrying out actions that I believe are legally appropriate
and, more importantly, clearly in the best interest of this child who
continues to be horrendously exploited in this bizarre and destructive
During his career, Redlener has also served as a physician special
consultant to the White House, as well as Expert Consultant to Assistant
Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services.
Currently he serves as president of the Children’s Hospital, Director
of the Child Health Network, and Director of Community Pediatrics at New
York’s Montefiore Medical Center in the