that pressure from a right-wing congressman led to the
installation of abstinence proponents to a panel discussion
held last week at the National STD Prevention
Conference in Jacksonville, Fla., the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention has announced it will
investigate the panel's formation, the federal health
care policy Web site CQ HealthBeat reports.
panel was slated to address in part the failures of
abstinence-only education programs and was originally titled
"Are Abstinence-Only Until Marriage Programs a
Threat to Public Health?" The original panel
included a Penn State University student who had planned
to talk about the failures of abstinence-only education
programs in reducing sexually transmitted disease
rates. But Rep. Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican,
objected to the panel's makeup and focus and wrote to
the Department of Health and Human Services to complain,
calling the conference "controversial"
Souder's complaints, the CDC removed the Penn State
student from the panel, replacing her with two
abstinence-only supporters. Neither of the new
panelists went through the peer-review vetting process
required of the original panel members, sources say.
The abstinence supporters also reportedly had their
travel expenses for the conference paid by the
government, while the other panel members were required to
pay their own way. Even the title of the panel
discussion was changed after Souder's
complaint, renamed "Public Health Strategies of
Abstinence Programs for Youth."
representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, last
week sent a letter to Health and Human Services
secretary Mike Leavitt, questioning whether the
department improperly allowed Souder to change the makeup of
the panel as well its name and its focus. Waxman also called
on Leavitt to guarantee that all future conferences
sponsored by HHS or the CDC allow decisions about
panel sessions to be made by scientists and public
health experts, not politicians.
CDC spokesman Tom
Skinner said the agency will investigate the formation
of the panel and the changes made after Souder's
complaints, adding that the agency believes the
changes were made not because of Souder's
influence but instead to "bring more balance"
to the discussion, CQ HealthBeat reports.
Oster, the Penn State student removed from the panel,
told CQ HealthBeat that an e-mail she received from the CDC
telling her she had been cut from the panel says the
change was made "due to political pressures
from above." Panel organizer Bruce Trigg said he
received a phone call about the changes from a CDC official
who said that "we can't have a one-sided
criticism of a government program," CQ
HealthBeat reports. "This is a level of interference
in the public health community that I don't
think we've seen before."
A spokesman for
Souder says the congressman did not unduly influence or
politicize the panel. "We would argue strongly what
we've done is remove politics from this
panel," Souder spokesman Martin Green told The
Albuquerque Journal. (The Advocate)
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