Will the AMA Vote Against Self-Interest If I Become A Member?
In an article I wrote last year about the War on Drugs, I quoted the AMA's stance on the government's policy:
(The AMA) encourages the undertaking of comprehensive research into the potential effects, both positive and adverse, of relaxing existing drug prohibitions and controls and, that, until the findings of such research can be adequately assessed, the AMA reaffirm its opposition to drug legalization.
Most Catallarchy readers would agree that there is enough evidence and the AMA is being disingenuous. But I thought I'd be charitable and give members the opportunity to hear the evidence and make their own call. So last fall I emailed my med school's student head of the Kentucky Medical Association and volunteered to give a presentation on the unhealthy and unethical drug war. A few weeks later I got a reply that basically said "we'll think about it and get back with you" (wink, wink). After that - nothin'. No real surprise.
Last month I got a letter from a member of the board of the KMA stating that he would be paying my inaugural membership fee to the AMA. My first thought was "what a great way to build your membership." My second thought was "thanks, but no thanks." There are a lot of reasons for me not to join the AMA, but their implicit and explicit support for the WoD is by far the greatest. So I thought I'd send a letter to my benefactor to explain my position and to possibly ruffle some feathers. Here's most of the text of the letter.
I want to thank you for your generous gesture to pay for my membership to the American Medical Association.
Because of your generosity, I feel that I owe you an explanation as to why I can not accept the offer. I have a very principled belief that our national drug policy is both immoral and ill-considered. Due to the AMA’s official support for the War on Drugs, I can not in good conscience become a member.
One of the chief principles on which our society, and country, are built is the principle of self-ownership. If we can not be said to hold ownership over our own bodies, and we can not claim domain to determine what does and does not go into our bodies, then what do we own and over what can we claim domain? I understand the health concerns that physicians must have with regard to now-illegal drugs; however, this is a far cry from supporting their state prohibition.
Also, I am distressed that the physician establishment has ignored ample evidence as to the harms of prohibition. Numerous economic studies have detailed the costs of prohibition – the resources it consumes, the violence it fosters, the disease it helps spread. It’s unfathomable to me that anyone, and especially the AMA, could observe prohibition’s costs on our health and still support it. If prohibition were a prescription drug, it would never make it through the FDA.
While the AMA claims in its policy statements to be open minded about drug policy, I can only cynically conclude that this is simply lip service – for the harms of prohibition and its lack of respect for human liberty are fairly evident. It seems to me that physicians, as a group, have a vested interest in keeping the status quo, and I am troubled that they would support such policies to protect their interests.
My letter was forwarded to the KMA office and I just received a reply. An excerpt:
Your leter to (name ommitted) in regard to your membership in the American Medical Association was forwarded to our office for follow up. We thank you for sharing your concerns about the AMA drug policy and appreciate your commitment to this position.
It is not unusual for a member to disagree with a particular position taken by the AMA or KMA House of Delegates. These policies, however, are decided by majority vote only after all sides of the issue have been fairly debated. Those with opposing viewpoints are welcome to revisit the issues and to lobby their delegates with persuasive testimony. The voice of the student delegation to the AMA is very strong and the University of Kentucky is fortunate to have effective leadership at the AMA level through (name ommitted) and (name ommitted). If you disagree, then you are encouraged to join so that you can speak out. If you are not a member, you have no voice!
So there you have it folks! You have to first join an organization with immoral policies that go against the ethics of the profession before having a prayer of changing said policies. And then, you only get one vote out of roughly a million. And you would be voting against people who are voting in self-interest. Hmmm...
I suppose the AMA won't change it's drug policy anytime soon. And I suppose I won't be a member of the AMA anytime soon. But I'd be perfectly happy to tell the AMA, free of charge, why they should change this policy.