The National Rifle Association should not be allowed to hold up the nomination of a new surgeon general, editors of one of the world’s top medical journals said Wednesday in an unusually strongly worded commentary.
The editors of the New England Journal of Medicine accused the NRA of political blackmail and said members of Congress had given in to the lobby group’s pressure.
Hearings on the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy are on hold for now after 10 Democrats in the Senate said they would probably vote against his nomination. The White House says it’s re-thinking its strategy for the nomination, although a spokesman told NBC News that President Barack Obama wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
It’s all due to pressure from the NRA, the three editors –- Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, Dr. Gregory Curfman and Stephen Morrissey -- wrote.
The NRA opposes Murthy, who is on the staff of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, because he’s spoken out for mandatory gun safety training and an assault weapons ban -– changes that many Americans, include some gun-rights supporters -– also approve of. Murthy has said his focus as surgeon general would be on obesity, not guns.
“Still, 10 Senate Democrats are apparently prepared to vote against Murthy's confirmation because of his personal views on firearms — a demonstration of just how much political power our legislators have ceded to the NRA,” the three editors wrote.
“The critical question is this: Should a special-interest organization like the NRA have veto power over the appointment of the nation's top doctor? The very idea is unacceptable,” they added.
Several medical groups, notably the American Academy of Pediatrics, have said the issue of gun safety is one of public health and should be discussed openly and frankly by doctors.
But it was after top U.S. public health officials started talking about gun violence in the 1990s that Congress, encouraged by the NRA and other lobby groups, moved to cut funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would have gone for gun research.
“Despite the continuing American tragedy of mass shootings — Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech — the NRA has redoubled its efforts to prevent enactment of stricter firearm regulations,” the Journal editors wrote.
“Lawmakers who run afoul of the NRA face political retribution. By obstructing the President's nomination of Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, the NRA is taking its single-issue political blackmail to a new level," the added.
"Dr. Murthy is an accomplished physician, policymaker, leader, and entrepreneur. He deserves the President's continued backing and should be confirmed.”
First published March 19 2014, 4:31 PM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBC News and TODAY, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.