Pernicious distortions

By Thomas Jipping

Controversies over Bush nominees are not new, but are spreading beyond the judiciary or Cabinet departments to more obscure posts in far-flung bureaucratic ports of call. The media report the impending appointment of Dr. W. David Hager, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Kentucky, to chair the Food and Drug Administration’s advisory panel on women’s health policy. Intentionally or negligently, some are trying to mislead the public about this nominee.

Time’s Karen Tumulty, for example, wrote on Oct. 5 that Dr. Hager is “a scantily credentialed doctor.” Though this kind of jab would normally appear as a quote from someone, she reports it herself as if it were a fact. Not surprisingly, she provides no standard, criterion or benchmark for determining whether someone’s credentials are “scant.” Even a brief look at Dr. Hager’s resume would tell any reasonable person that his credentials are anything but scant.

Dr. Hager has been on the obstetrics and gynecology faculty at the University of Kentucky for nearly a quarter-century – first as a clinical instructor and, since 1991, a full professor. His past and present professional activities include serving as chairman the Council for Continuing Medical Education of the Kentucky Medical Association; president of the Kentucky Ob-Gyn Society, an affiliate of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; and a member of the Advisory Committee for Women’s Services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Advisory Commission on Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Cervical Cancer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Advisory Committee on Reproductive Health Drugs at the FDA.

Dr. Hager has authored or co-authored more than 40 articles on women’s reproductive health issues in professional journals including the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, the International Journal of Fertility, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. He has authored or co-authored more than a dozen book chapters and a half-dozen books.

Dr. Hager has received the Kentucky Medical Association’s 1993 Educational Achievement Award and Modern Healthcare Magazine’s 1994 Outstanding Physician in America Award; he was one of Good Housekeeping Magazine’s “Best Doctors for Women” in 1997, one of Ladies Home Journal’s Best Doctors for Women in 2002, and named one of “America’s Top Obstetricians and Gynecologists” for 2002-03 by the Consumer’s Research Council of America.

Those are just the highlights from a very long resume that anyone, including a reporter, can read for herself. The University of Kentucky responded strongly to the Time article, pointing out that Dr. Hager is “nationally recognized” and his published work has been “significant and respected by others in the field.” Why would anyone, especially a journalist, call someone like this “scantily credentialed”?

It might be to deflect attention from the scandal plaguing the FDA, where ideology and politics have replaced research and sound science. Or, even more pernicious, it might be the same kind of attack on people of faith we have seen elsewhere. The Time article, for example, bore the snide title “Jesus and the FDA.” Maureen Dowd took a similarly slanted swipe at religion in her New York Times column titled “Tribulation Worketh Patience” – words taken from Romans 5:3. They observe that, in addition to his traditional academic and clinical work, Dr. Hager has written about the impact of faith and prayer on health.

In this, too, he is in broad company. Journals such as the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the Journal of Gerontology and the Journal of the American Medical Association have recently published research and research surveys showing the role of religious faith in medical treatment is strong enough to use in making clinical recommendations.

University of Chicago clinical psychologist Dr. Alicia Matthews found in her study that spirituality is “very meaningful to people in terms of their overall adjustment and coping” with breast cancer diagnosis in treatment. A poll by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that 99 percent of physicians agree that religious beliefs can be a positive part of the healing process.

The sudden attack on Dr. Hager is perhaps the same kind of problem going on at the FDA, i.e., personal bias and politics getting in the way of sound judgment and decision-making. Perhaps he is the right person for the job after all.