NIH Director Defends Funds for Criticized Sex Research; Republicans Question Priorities of Health Agency

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 30, 2004 | Go to article overview

NIH Director Defends Funds for Criticized Sex Research; Republicans Question Priorities of Health Agency


Byline: Robert Stacy McCain, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The director of the National Institutes of Health said his agency will continue to fund sex research, including studies involving pornography and prostitution that have been criticized by House Republicans.

"I fully support NIH's continued investment in research on human sexuality," Dr. Elia A. Zerhouni wrote in a letter to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, that bypassed the Republican committee chairmen who oversee the agency.

The director's letter reported on NIH's "comprehensive review" covering several projects criticized by congressional Republicans and conservative activists.

Those projects included a $147,000 Northwestern University study that paid women to watch pornography, another that studied prostitutes at truck stops and one that examined "two-spirited" transvestites in American Indian cultures.

The letter to Mr. Kennedy echoed Dr. Zerhouni's remarks earlier this month to an agency advisory committee. "When we looked at the public health relevance, there was no question that these projects should have been funded and should continue to be funded," the director told the NIH panel, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Critics say the NIH sex studies divert federal tax dollars from potentially life-saving research. Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican, called Dr. Zerhouni's defense of the projects "an unbelievable rationalization."

"Do I need a Ph.D. to understand why it is a sensible prioritization to spend hundreds of thousands of research dollars to pay women to watch porn, while countless Americans are suffering from dehabilitating diseases with no cures?" Mr. Souder said in a statement.

The NIH director said he is "initiating discussions ... to ensure that this research is better presented to the public so that they may understand the relevance of this research to public health and that it is prioritized appropriately."

The battle over taxpayer-funded sex research has escalated steadily in Congress over the past year. In July, the House rejected in a 212-210 vote a measure sponsored by Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, that would have eliminated federal funding for five sex studies.

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