Tuesday, July 14, 2009

President Nominates Catholic Physician to be Surgeon General [UPDATED]

(Hat tip: Chris Blosser at Catholics in the Public Square)

Whispers in the Loggia provides the details of President Obama's nomination of Dr. Regina Benjamin to be Surgeon General of the United States:
... the President drew further from the US church's diverse ranks this morning with the nomination of his Surgeon General -- this time, selecting an African-American Catholic.

Founder of a
health clinic for Alabama's rural poor that's been destroyed and rebuilt three times (twice by hurricanes, once by fire) since its founding in 1990, Dr Regina Benjamin was reelected to a second term on the board of the US' Catholic Health Association at its yearly assembly last month in New Orleans. Even more notably, though, the family physician's work both at home and beyond was recognized in 2006 when Pope Benedict awarded Benjamin the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice ("For the Church and the Pontiff") -- the Roman accolade reserved for laity, religious and permanent deacons who've given distinguished service both at the Vatican and in the wider church alike.

The first African-American woman to lead a state medical association, the 52 year-old nominee -- whose grandmother
helped found a Black Catholic parish amid her era's forced segregation, its first Masses offered in her living room -- must be confirmed by the Senate before she can become the nation's "top doc." In the meantime, the CHA's president, Daughter of Charity Sr Carol Keehan "rejoice[d] for the nation" in a statement released just after this morning's announcement ...

SVILUPPO: In its report on the Benjamin nod, the wire has a bit more on the General-designate's papal honor:
Msgr. Michael Farmer, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Ala., said Benjamin was nominated for the [Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice] because of "her commitment to her faith as well as for putting her faith into practice."

"I'm very happy with her being nominated," Msgr. Farmer told Catholic News Service in a phone interview. "She's a very good woman and a very good doctor."
My Comments:
A Catholic physician who has been honored by Pope Benedict with the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. Now THAT seems promising!

However, I noted one glaring omission from Rocco's reporting on the nomination: some indication of Dr. Benjamin's stance on abortion. That seems like more than just an oversight of an insignificant detail when reporting on the nomination of a Catholic physician to be the Nation's top doctor.

Life News offers some indication of what Dr. Benjamin's views on the subject MAY be:
... Benjamin became the first black physician and the youngest doctor ever elected to the American Medical Association's board.

In that position, she presents some concerns for the majority of Americans who take a pro-life position on abortion.

In December 1996, Benjamin spoke in favor of a vote by the AMA's governing body to "urge medical schools to expand their curriculum" to teach "more about abortion."

She supported teaching doctors to do abortions in an interview with the Associated Press.

"We are adopting a policy that medical school curriculum provide the legal, ethical, and psychological principles associated with abortion so students can learn all the factors involved," she said.

Benjamin is also on the board of directors of Physicians for Human Rights, an organization which has spoken out against illegal abortions in many nations across the world. The group has relied on disputed statistics on maternal deaths from abortions to call for legalization.

The group also called on President Bush not to expand the Mexico City Policy, which President Obama overturned in January, that stops sending taxpayer dollars to groups that promote and perform abortions in other nations.

And it asked President Bush to ratify the CEDAW treaty that does not include abortion promotion but has been used by the United Nations to pressure numerous countries to legal abortion or expand abortions further.
Nothing definitive, but certainly raising some areas of significant concern for pro-lifers.

The Life News story goes on to provide these additional details about how Dr. Benjamin views her faith and its role in her medical practice:
Benjamin is a Catholic and she talked about her medical practice with the Catholic Digest in 2007.

“The most important thing to me is when I walk into a room and tell a mother that her baby’s going to be all right,” she says. “It lets me know that I'm doing the right thing in life.”

She told the Catholic paper that she overcame her public speaking fear when she became a lector at her church.

“Church was always a very important part of my life,” Benjamin says.

“I believe I am carrying on the healing ministry of Christ. I feel obligated to help continue his works. I think it’s important to make a difference in everything you do, even if it’s small.”

She also received the National Caring Award, inspired by Mother Teresa, in 2000.
I'll say again that this nomination seems like a promising development. But questions remain that need to be answered. And, while I am tempted to say that if she's good enough to receive the papal cross from Pope Benedict for her work then she's good enough to be Surgeon General of the United States, I am troubled by the prospect of a high-profile Catholic using the role of "America's Doctor" to promote abortion (and especially promoting abortion training as a requirement for graduation from medical school).

I think we need more information before coming to any definitive conclusions on this nomination, and I caution my fellow pro-lifers to NOT go immediately on the attack (as they did with Judge Sotomayor) and to be measured in whatever criticisms they make. This woman has a Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal from Pope Benedict (no insignificant thing, that) that the President's supporters will make no bones about throwing back in her critics' faces at every opportunity.

The Catholic League applauds the pick as "excellent".
(Hat tip: Dave Hartline at The Catholic Report)

UPDATE #2 (15 July)
Rocco now has a post covering Dr. Benjamin's abortion views.

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