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Jesus and the FDA

By Karen Tumulty


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A quiet battle is raging over the Bush Administration's plan to appoint a scantily credentialed doctor, whose writings include a book titled As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now, to head an influential Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel on women's health policy.

Sources tell TIME that the agency's choice for the advisory panel is Dr. W. David Hager, an obstetrician-gynecologist who also wrote, with his wife Linda, Stress and the Woman's Body, which puts "an emphasis on the restorative power of Jesus Christ in one's life" and recommends specific Scripture readings and prayers for such ailments as headaches and premenstrual syndrome.

Though his resume describes Hager as a University of Kentucky professor, a university official says Hager's appointment is part time and voluntary and involves working with interns at Lexington's Central Baptist Hospital, not the university itself. In his private practice, two sources familiar with it say, Hager refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women. Hager did not return several calls for comment.

FDA advisory panels often have near-final say over crucial health questions. If Hager becomes chairman of the 11-member Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee, he will lead its study of hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women, one of the biggest controversies in health care. Some conservatives are trying to use doubts about such therapy to discredit the use of birth-control pills, which contain similar compounds. The panel also made the key recommendation in 1996 that led to approval of the "abortion pill," RU-486--a decision that abortion foes are still fighting. Hager assisted the Christian Medical Association last August in a "citizens' petition" calling upon the FDA to reverse itself on RU-486, saying it has endangered the lives and health of women.

Hager was chosen for the post by FDA senior associate commissioner Linda Arey Skladany, a former drug-industry lobbyist with longstanding ties to the Bush family. Skladany rejected at least two nominees proposed by FDA staff members: Donald R. Mattison, former dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, and Michael F. Greene, director of maternal-fetal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Despite pressure from inside the FDA to make the appointment temporary, sources say, Skladany has insisted that Hager get a full four-year term. FDA spokesman Bill Pierce called Hager "well qualified."

--By Karen Tumulty



Copyright © 2002 Time Inc.


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