A surgical instrument for applying purse string sutures to human tissue includes a pair of jaws on which a plurality of teeth are configured to firmly grip the tissue to be sutured and to pinch the tissue into a desirable configuration to receive the purse string sutures. The successive teeth on each jaw are alternately pointed and smooth with the pointed teeth on each jaw being opposed to the smooth teeth on the other jaw. A needle passage extends through the teeth on each jaw for guiding a needle attached to each purse string suture through the tissue which extends into the valleys on opposite sides of the teeth. A needle retainer is provided on each of the jaws for capturing the needles advanced through the needle passages. The needles are advanced by a pair of tubular sleeves which slide through the passages and receive the purse string sutures therein to guard the sutures against damage as the needles are advanced to draw the sutures through the passages. The tubular sleeves are attached to actuators which are operable simultaneously or independently so that one or more purse string sutures can be selectively applied to the tissue.