The Treatment

Gupta Withdraws To Spend More Time Chasing Life

Last night on Larry King
Live
, Sanjay Gupta confirmed earlier
reports
that he was withdrawing his name from consideration for the surgeon
general post. According to Gupta, the reasons for his decision are both
professional (he would no longer be able to perform neurosurgery) and familial:
“You know, I have two daughters,” he told King. “Our third daughter is now
imminent. In fact, I have my phone on right here, I might get called off the
set.”

Gupta was nominated for a
largely-ceremonial role, but his possible selection proved highly controversial.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman
slammed
him
for his flawed “fact-check” segment on Michael Moore’s Sicko, and health care bloggers like Gary Schwitzer
and Maggie
Mahar
expressed concern that his insufficiently skeptical coverage of
controversial drugs and preventive
measures
made him an unwise choice for the leading public health advocate. The
Commissioned Officers Association of the U.S. Public Health Service (COA) urged
the president to hire
someone
within their ranks. And as we reported
on The Treatment, Gupta’s ethically murky relationship to pharmaceutical
sponsors raised questions about his ability to serve as a sufficiently
independent health expert.

COA leader Jerry Farrell suggests
that Gupta soured on the position after Tom Daschle withdrew himself as the
nominee for both HHS Secretary and the White House’s chief health reform officer.
By resigning from the position, CNN’s chief medical correspondent avoids the
prospect of being caught between the potentially conflicting priorities of two
bosses, gets to keep his high-paying salary, and shirks the scrutiny that comes
with being a high-profile public servant.

More importantly, it presents
the CNN personality with the opportunity to pursue some of his wackier hobbies,
including his bizarre quest for medical immortality. In his 2007 popular health
book Chasing Life, he noted that “[T]he
word echoing through the longevity chambers was that we were rapidly arriving
at a time when the only limit on life span might simply be an individual’s
decision to stop living. Visions of youthful 120-year-olds with several
genetically perfect transplanted body parts, exchanged like a muffler or
transmission, danced through my head.” 
No doubt it’ll be easier to chase life away from Washington’s
stuffy, overworked federal bureaucracies, where the task of providing health
care coverage to America’s
45 million uninsured remains one of the biggest challenges the Obama
administration will face.

Some health care activists
are already circulating
a petition
arguing for the nomination of Dr. George Lundberg, a former
editor-in-chief of the Journal of American Medical Association and CEO of WebMD.
Lundberg has been
called
“online health care’s medicine man,” and has strong liberal
credentials likely to make him a less controversial pick among those that found
Gupta unacceptable.

--Marin Cogan

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