AMA To Issue Apology for Past Transgressions Toward Black Physicians
The American Medical Association on Thursday is scheduled to release a formal apology for its "historical antipathy" toward black physicians and to express regret for a "litany of transgressions," the Washington Post reports. AMA's transgressions include not allowing blacks to join the group and not speaking out on legislation to end racial discrimination. According to the Post, "The apology marks one of the rare times a major national organization has expressed contrition for its role in the segregation and discrimination that black people have experienced in the United States."
In a commentary to be published in the July 16 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Ronald Davis, AMA's most recent past president, wrote that although many of AMA's questionable actions reflected the "social mores and racial discrimination" that existed for much of U.S. history, it does not excuse the actions. He wrote, "The medical profession, which is based on a boundless respect for human life, had an obligation to lead society away from disrespect of so many lives," adding, "The AMA failed to do so and has apologized for that failure." Davis wrote, "Although current members of a group might bear little or no responsibility for past actions, a group apology makes clear the group's current moral orientation. Acknowledging past wrongs lays a marker for understanding and tracking current and future actions."
AMA officials on Wednesday would not discuss specifics of the apology, including what prompted them to issue it at this time, but Davis' commentary refers to a committee of experts convened and supported by the organization to examine "the historic roots of the black-white divide in U.S. medicine." The committee noted that AMA allowed state and local medical associations to exclude black physicians, effectively barring these doctors from the national organization; listed black doctors as "colored" in its national physician directory in the early 20th century; remained silent over the Civil Rights Act of 1964; for many years declined to join efforts to mandate that hospitals built with federal funds not discriminate; and was slow to respond to discrimination of black doctors (Watt, Washington Post, 7/10).
According to the AP/Los Angeles Times, former AMA president John Nelson offered a similar apology at a 2005 meeting on improving health care and eliminating disparities. AMA in 2004 joined the National Medical Association, a black physician group, and other minority physicians' groups to form the Commission to End Health Care Disparities. According to the AP/Times, "The new apology is more formal" and is also part of the organization's effort to improve its image (Tanner, AP/Los Angeles Times, 7/10).
NMA on Thursday accepted AMA's apology. NMA President Nelson Adams said, "We commend the AMA for taking this courageous step and coming to grips with a litany of discriminatory practices that have had a devastating effect on the health of African-Americans," adding, "In fact, the NMA owes its very existence, in part, to these inequities which forced African-American physicians to found their own membership organization." Adams called AMA's apology a "historic opportunity" to begin to right the wrongs of the past. He said, "Let's not make the same mistakes again and have history repeat itself," adding, "Now is the time to move forward and begin serving all patients, regardless of race, creed or color, with the highest medical care possible."
According to NMA leaders, AMA's history of discrimination has contributed to past and current health disparities for blacks. Nedra Joyner, chair of NMA's Board of Trustees, said, "These persistent, race-based health disparities have led to a precipitous decline in the health of African-Americans when compared to their white counterparts and the population as a whole." She added, "In accepting this apology for past wrongs, it is important we seize this opportunity to move forward to correct these injustices." Adams called on AMA to work with NMA on their three initiatives: to recruit more blacks into the medical profession, commit to reducing health disparities and mandate that medical schools and medical licensing organizations require that all professionals receive cultural competency training (NMA release, 7/10).