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Vivek Murthy Named Class Day Speaker for Harvard Medical Area

3.28.14

Vivek Murthy

Vivek Murthy

Photograph courtesy of Brigham and Women's Hospital

Vivek Murthy ’98, whose nomination as U.S. Surgeon General is stalled in the Senate, will be the Harvard Medical School and Harvard Dental School Class Day speaker on May 29. An attending physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, Murthy, the subject of a Harvard Magazine profile more than a decade ago, is co-founder of Doctors for America, a 16,000-member organization of physicians and medical students whose goal is expanded access to affordable health care. (The organization was founded in 2008 as Doctors for Obama.) His nonprofit Visions Worldwide Inc., co-founded with his sister, focused on AIDS education. He is also co-founder of TrialNetworks, a system for improving the efficiency of clinical trials in order to bring new drugs to market faster and more safely.

The National Rifle Association (NRA)—taking a stance likely to have outsize influence in this election year—reportedly opposes Murthy’s nomination as surgeon general because he has stated publicly that guns are a health issue. (For Harvard Magazine coverage of this issue, see this report on a January 2013 symposium, and “Death by the Barrel,” a feature article on the subject.) In response, an editorial signed by top editors of The New England Journal of Medicine has expressed unequivocal support for Murthy’s nomination as surgeon general:

The NRA opposes Murthy solely on the grounds that he has advocated reasonable and mainstream forms of gun regulation, including an assault-weapons ban, a limit on ammunition sales, and required safety training. Given that there are more than 30,000 firearm deaths in the United States each year, Murthy's views on potential safeguards are unsurprising.

This is the first time that the NRA has flexed its political muscle over the appointment of a surgeon general. The NRA has taken this action even though the surgeon general has no authority over firearm regulation and even though Murthy made it clear in his testimony before the Senate [Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions] that if he is confirmed, his principal focus will be on the important national problem of obesity prevention, not firearm policy. 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 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.

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