“The NIH used to be a universally-respected, non-political organization before COVID, but that trust has been broken.”
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) questioned Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, Joe Biden’s nominee to be Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) committee. Coach Tuberville raised questions about a recent NIH study about the effects of hormone treatments on transgender youth.
Read excerpts below or watch the full exchange here.
Senator Tuberville: “Being an educator, this really touches me. The NIH funded a recent study about the psychosocial functioning in transgender youth after two years of hormones. According to the letter NIH sent to Ranking Member Cassidy and me, the research seeks to understand the physical and psychosocial effects of medical intervention to evaluate the effectiveness of existing medical treatments already in use among transgender youth. As you know, two young people committed suicide who were part of this study. That’s obviously a tragedy – but what concerns me even more is the fact that the NIH was funding this research. And beyond that, I believe the NIH even called the study a success. That’s sick. It sounds to me like the NIH totally dropped the ball on quality control and oversight. So, if confirmed, how will you make sure nothing like that ever happens on your watch?”
Dr. Bertagnolli: “So first, Senator, I really thank you for your affirmation of the critical importance of NIH and what we are and that we are here to serve the American people and just how critical that is and how important this job is. And to that end, in response to your question, we have the greatest responsibility to ensure two things. First, that we serve all people, all people, all walks of life, and that we really are here to achieve the health of all. But that number two, any research that we do that involves human beings, people, is conducted according to the highest ethical principles so that we make sure that the research is intending to do no harm, to achieve benefit, and is done in ways that have maximum respect for the dignity of people. If confirmed as NIH director, I will affirm to you that that will be my mode of action and my highest priority for all human research.”
Senator Tuberville: “Thank you. One more quick question, chairman. The NIH used to be a universally-respected, non-political organization before COVID, but that trust has been broken, especially in rural parts like my state of Alabama. You’re from rural Wyoming. So, you get the real perspective and you understand just how much people in those parts of the country in particular have lost confidence in our public health institutions. They feel totally overlooked. What would you do as NIH Director to help gain back some of that respect in rural areas?”
Dr. Bertagnolli: “Thank you so much for that question, and I’ll be very, very brief. Two things. Number one, I believe deeply in the doctor-patient relationship. That has incredible value, that is trust. A patient comes and puts their life in the hands and their health in the hands of their doctors. And anything that we can do to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship is something that we should pursue to the fullest extent possible. And then second, I believe in education at all levels. […] Patients joining us in research to the fullest extent possible, not science here and people here, but people joining us to do science. I think that also engenders great trust in the process if it’s done in a respectful and appropriate way.”
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.