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Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General? (with a side trip to the war on drugs)

January 7, 2009

I have to say, I don’t have an overwhelming positive or negative about the possibility of Dr. Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General, although I don’t quite have the nice and solid, well-thought-out reasons I like to have for things.

I would tend to prefer a person with a public health background, whereas Gupta is a neurosurgeon. I have no opinion on the Gupta vs. Michael Moore thing, because I don’t know enough about it. I’ve seen criticism of how he has covered topics such as autism and vaccines and Clonaid in the CNN role.

I can understand the view of those who think that he, as a CNN personality, will be a good health cheerleader for the nation, or that, as a neurosurgeon, he might be the right person for a serious look at the long-term effects of head injury in all those men and women we’ve been sending off to war of late. I find him difficult to judge because I can’t quite imagine how the two things will translate into his fulfilling the Surgeon General role.

However, the whole “obesity epidemic” schtick gives me the willies (see, I told you it wasn’t well reasoned), and I really can’t understand how anybody can’t understand why – despite the war on people drugs and “all the public service announcements” – people still smoke pot. Seriously? And who makes only the health effects argument against the legalization of marijuana, without also advocating for making cigarettes and alcohol illegal (or every optional but potentially harmful activity, for that matter).

My friend Kat takes up the war on drugs in a post today, and a commenter notes that from a civil liberties perspective, Gupta’s argument is exactly backwards – “it’s not about justifying the legalization, it’s about justifying the criminalization.” Personally, I’d like to see people in national health-related positions who understand that, yes, some things are not 100% good for you in every amount (most things, in fact), but sometimes the government needs to shut up, back off, and let adults decide for themselves. Or at least be consistent, because the nerd/Vulcan in me cannot take the logic of illegal weed and legal alcohol.

Meh. For your reference, here’s a summary of the duties of the Surgeon General. And a bunch more takes on the topic over at ScienceBlogs.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Susanna permalink
    January 8, 2009 5:59 am

    Personally, I’m against everything that makes people dummer. Hence, both alcohol and drugs. I have noticed both alcoholics and potheads to be exasperatingly stupid. And tedious. And aggressively defensive about their habit.

    The reason why we do not criminalize alcohol is that it is so deeply-rooted in our culture that it’s hopeless anymore. Drugs aren’t quite yet, so there’s a chance of it working. Nothing to do with logic, just pure pragmatism.

    And yes, if a stoned surgeon cuts up the wrong organ of a loved one, I take offense. Or a stoned driver runs over me. I’m funny that way. So no, it’s not just a decision for adults to make for themselves.

    I agree I would like to see a less flashy Surgeaon General, somebody who had paid his dues in a long career in public health. Not that passable looks would disqualify anybody.

  2. January 8, 2009 7:40 am

    Susanna, I completely disagree – there can be laws and rules in place (like drunk driving laws, traffic laws, and so on) that legal activities cease to become legal when they are likely to cause harm to another person (such as when performing surgery, or at work in general). A completely sober, brilliantly smart driver could also run over you, and that’s why we have laws about speeding, talking on cell phones while driving, and driver’s tests, and the like. That’s a totally separate issue from legality itself, and a solution has been found for many other activities.

    I don’t think sweeping generalizations about people being stupid or “dummer” [sic] do much to move a rationale discussion of civil liberties forward, and the use of various substances has been part of the human experience for a very long time (although I’m not sure whose culture you refer to when you say “our” culture).

  3. Susanna permalink
    January 8, 2009 8:15 am

    The thing is that if people didn’t get drunk or stoned in the first place, they could not go on to drunken driving or committing malpractice while stoned.

    It’s not a sweeping generalisation. It’s my consistent, personal observation that is backed by scientific data. (Very smart to pick on people’s typos, there’s plenty of them on this site, and you choose to highlight mine. By the way, I think you meant to say rational, not rationale.)

    Yeah, people have been abusing subtances for a long time. They’ve also been murdering for a long time. Yeah, there may be enclaves of subcultures where drug abuse is rampant and alcohol is sneered at. It’s also a typical junkie’s excuse that “everybody is doing it!” They are not.

    Usually you make a lot of sense, but I just could not let this one slide. Civil liberties got nothing to do with it.

  4. January 8, 2009 8:40 am

    Right, but if people don’t drive cars or practice medicine or pretty much ever leave the house, most things won’t go wrong – I just don’t think that means we should pass laws that people can’t do most things that could ever possibly go wrong. I appreciate that you’re at least consistent, so presumably think all alcohol consumption should be illegal, but I don’t think that worked out well the last time. Civil liberties absolutely have something to do with it, in my opinion.

    And yes, it’s rather petty to note the typos, and I should have totally ignored the misspelling of “dumber,” although the context of that particular mistake amused me somewhat and I don’t like to propagate errors in quotes without noting them. You’re correct, it’s “rational.”

  5. January 8, 2009 12:33 pm

    Personally, I’m against everything that makes people dummer.

    So…it’s goodbye, television, is it? And good-bye twinkies and chocolate bars and comic books and every other thing suffering the taint of “bad for your brain”.

    Civil liberties got nothing to do with it.

    Civil liberties have everything to do with it. The drug laws say that you can’t perform an activity in your own home behind closed doors that harms no one but yourself. But that’s just the beginning, Susanna.

    Let’s say you are going to a party and you have a bit more pot on you than you’d normally carry. If the police stop you and catch you with this pot they can take you to jail. They can also take your car, your house and all of your furniture. Without having to prove anything more than that you have a lot of pot. The assets forfeiture laws cooked up for the War on Drugs mean that if the DEA even suspects you of being any type of drug dealer they can take everything you own–no questions asked. No warrants needed.

    That’s Civil Liberties.

    And yes, if a stoned surgeon cuts up the wrong organ of a loved one, I take offense. Or a stoned driver runs over me. I’m funny that way. So no, it’s not just a decision for adults to make for themselves.

    In both of those cases the guilty parties would be punished for their crimes. Why are you punishing people in advance of their crime?

    Let’s imagine, for just a minute, that abortion is no longer legal. Frankly, there are plenty of people in this country rooting for THAT outcome, don’t you agree? Making pot illegal to stop malpractice and bad driving would be sort of like making it illegal to practice gynecological medicine of any sort just to make superdoublesure that no one is out there performing abortions. Or just making D&Cs (a perfectly fine procedure performed for lots of reasons other than medical abortion) illegal.

    Any time you create a law designed to curtail an activity to prevent a negative outcome you’re infringing on Civil Liberties.

    Back to the “no television” thing I mentioned earlier. That’s a great example. We all know that not all television is bad. I’m a big fan, say, of “How It’s Made”. That’s a fantastic show which also provides a good basic education in engineering. But there is a lot of other stuff on tv–violent stuff–that they say may be harmful to some people. Much like pot, TV is not all bad and not as bad for some people as for others. I can turn off a show I don’t think is good for me, but what about those other people who can’t?

    If we were to outright ban all TV for everyone, wouldn’t you think that would be a violation of your civil liberties and the civil liberties of others? How will many of the lower economic groups become informed about social programs? How will we warn people of coming storms? How will responsible, hard-working adults be able to relax at the end of the day without reruns of The West Wing? But that doesn’t matter because we don’t want any maladjusted teenagers seeing an episode of “Burn Notice” and figuring out how to blow up their school bus!

    Any law designed to govern personal behaviour is, by definition, a violation of Civil Liberties. As a country we’ve made the decision to weigh the depth of violation against the necessity of the law.

    In case you were wondering, though, I don’t smoke pot and I never will.

  6. January 9, 2009 12:28 pm

    If I may throw in my two cents. I don’t like the man, I hit the mute button the minute he shows up on CNN. I understand that he is a medical doctor but he makes pronouncements without considering the social aspects that lead to certain conditions. In the case of obesity, he does not examine the link to poverty. How can we say that this is all about individual responsibility when a box of kraft dinner costs less than a head of broccoli? People buy what they can afford to buy and unfortunately in most cases this is processed high fat food. We no longer grow most of our own food. In urban centers there are few spaces to have a garden, (the cheapest path veggies and fruit) yet we blame the individual. He is a man that hates fat but has no constructive advice to offer, only condemnation.

    He further perpetuates the myth that fat necessarily means unhealthy. Is anorexia a healthy condition? Those people are all skinny and yet we know that they are extremely ill. His biased position encourages fat hatred. A man that cannot see this is not fit as far as I am concerned to lead the nation in anything. There are more than enough people in power already who are more than willing to create people as “other” without adding another person.

  7. January 10, 2009 8:26 am

    Renee, excellent comment on his focus on obesity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the discussion about food with people – sometimes all you can manage is full, and healthy would be a luxury you can’t afford, and we go and make that about individual shame and choices rather than addressing the reasons why people can’t afford fresh produce. I also agree that they don’t understand obesity or weight and health in general nearly as well as media coverage like Gupta’s would have us believe.

    Remind me to tell you my thyroid saga sometime.

  8. Unar permalink
    January 19, 2009 2:41 pm

    I agree with Renee. I don’t think Sanjay Gupta with his superficial approach to health issues like obesity would make a good Surgeon General, if he continues that outlook. But then I do not think Hillary Clinton is a good choice for Secretary of State (no real foreign policy and diplomatic experience, despite numerous foreign trips and a militarist world view no different than a lot of her predecessors – the mindset that makes for war that Candidate Obama said he wants to change) or Tim Geithner (the architect of the AIG ‘bailout’ read looting of the treasury) as Secretary of Treasury either.

  9. Susanna permalink
    January 20, 2009 1:49 am

    What do you mean, pot is not all bad? Yeah, it is!

    If you don’t want to get into trouble, THEN DON’T ABUSE DRUGS!

    And what’s this faulty logic that if I am against everything that makes people dumber, then I must be against TV, ergo, I must want to ban TV?

    The rest of the reasoning is just as fuzzy thinking.

  10. January 20, 2009 7:58 am

    Susanna, we obviously disagree, and in the interest of having conversations rather than having people just be antagonistic, I’m just going to post this link to the Drug Policy Alliance Network’s overview, “What’s Wrong with the Drug War?” for discussion.

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