AMA disavows anti-gay discrimination comments

President’s remarks taken out of context

The president of the American Medical Association (AMA), who became the target of criticism from gay and lesbian groups after comments defending a medical school’s decision to ban a gay student group were attributed to him in a newspaper article, asserts that his views were misrepresented.

John C. Nelson, MD, MPH, FACOG, FACPM, president of the 250,000-member AMA, was interviewed by the Journal News of White Plains, NY, in mid-February, and was asked about New York Medical College’s decision to ban a gay student group. The article quoted Nelson as likening the ban to Brigham Young University’s ban on caffeine on campus and its suspension of football players accused of rape.

The executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Joel Ginsberg, issued a statement charging that Nelson’s comments compared the gay student group to something trivial, like the use of soft drinks, and to criminal activity, such as rape.

Nelson was quoted in the article as saying the AMA does not support the ban of the group at the medical school, but that the students’ rights to be on campus had to be balanced against the private, Catholic church-affiliated school’s right to set policy.

AMA refutes discrimination accusations

J. James Rohack, MD, chairman of the AMA’s board of trustees, issued a statement in which he did not mention Nelson’s name or the attributed quotes, but strongly voiced the AMA’s "zero tolerance for discrimination in any form."

"We are greatly disturbed that a recent newspaper article failed to document this commitment," he stated in comments posted to the AMA’s web site. "Respecting the diversity of patients and the physicians who care for them is a fundamental value of the medical profession and reflected in numerous AMA policies."

"Contrary to the offending report, the AMA does not support banning a gay and lesbian medical student group at New York Medical College," Rohack continued. "The AMA encourages all medical schools to give great consideration to the benefits that arise from diversity, and help raise awareness among our physicians-in-training about the unique needs of their future gay and lesbian patients."

Nelson, a Mormon whose children attend Brigham Young, the Mormon-affiliated university he allegedly used as his example in the newspaper article, said in comments he posted to the AMA web site that his views "were grossly misrepresented" in the newspaper article.

"Let me be perfectly clear — the AMA is opposed to discrimination for any reason, and I am opposed to discrimination for any reason," he said. "The examples I used were taken out of context and twisted to portray a negative attitude toward gays and lesbians — an attitude which I do not share."

Nelson pointed out that he helped establish the AMA’s Commission to End Healthcare Disparities and that he frequently speaks on the need to eradicate inequality in health care.

"I apologize to anyone who may have been offended by what they read. Please be assured that the article does not represent my views or the policies of the AMA," Nelson concluded.

The Journal News issued a statement in which its managing editor said the paper taped the interview with Nelson, stands by the resulting story, and that neither the AMA nor Nelson had requested a correction to the article.