Unhealthy Behavior Must Be Discouraged

Article excerpt

Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming may have had it right when he decided to back Dr. Joycelyn Elders' nomination for surgeon general, not because he agrees with her views but because she has the best chance of reaching the people who constitute the country's major health problems.

What Simpson was saying, if I understood him, is that Elders - black, outspoken and female - may have the best chance of persuading the unpersuaded to embrace "safe sex," prenatal care and innoculation against childhood diseases. Further: Reaching that hard-to-reach population is so important as to outweigh Elders' obnoxious (to Simpson) philosophy, her self-righteousness and her propensity for the smart-mouth quip.

Certainly much of the hoopla leading up to Tuesday's Senate confirmation vote had less to do with Elders' beliefs than with her often injudicious expression of those beliefs. It is possible, after all, to take a pro-choice position without taking shots at the "celibate, male-dominated (Catholic) church" or urging pro-life advocates to "get over their love affair with the fetus."

I'm willing to grant Simpson's point. If Elders can use the bully pulpit of the office to get the sexually active to take precautions against pregnancy and disease, if she can talk pregnant teen-agers into getting the prenatal care that can improve the chances of their children thriving, if she can get young people to abandon some of their wildly unrealistic attitudes toward sexual activity, I'll forgive her her brashness. …