AMA Speaks Out Against Scouts, But Stays Neutral on Pot

The American Medical Association voted Tuesday to urge the Boy Scouts to reconsider their ban on homosexuals, but avoided taking a strong stand supporting the medical use of marijuana, saying there's little evidence to show it helps ease patients' pain.

Under the revised marijuana policy, adopted without debate by the group's House of Delegates, the AMA endorses "the free and unfettered exchange of information on treatment alternatives." It also suggests that doctors and patients should not be prosecuted if those private discussions involve using marijuana as a pain reliever.

But the nation's largest doctors' group will not formally endorse the compassionate use of marijuana unless scientific evidence shows that it is helpful, said Dr. Herman Abromowitz, an AMA trustee from Dayton, Ohio.

"Just to endorse something on anecdotal evidence is not AMA policy," Abromowitz said after the House of Delegates' vote at the group's annual meeting.

The action comes a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the medical use of marijuana.

The AMA's 547-member policy-making House is voting on more than 200 proposals at the five-day meeting, which ends Thursday.

Delegates prompted angry calls to the AMA's Chicago headquarters by endorsing a measure asking the group to speak out against the Scouts' ban on homosexuals.

One critic accused the group of being the American Association of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The measure deleted language in the original resolution arguing that exclusionary bans risk driving gay youngsters to suicide. The committee that heard the proposal cited a lack of scientific testimony in doing so.

Dr. Michael Macko, a Providence physician and president of the Rhode Island Medical Society, called the vote a positive move but added, "We still think it's a health issue."

Excluding youngsters because of their sexual orientation "causes psychological trauma," said Macko. He said the measure was prompted by a society member who is also a Scout leader, and several doctors whose children are gay testified in favor of the measure.

The AMA's action on the marijuana measure prompted criticism from patients like disabled veteran Michael Krawitz of Roanoke, Va., who uses the illegal drug as a pain-reliever.

The AMA "is basically dropping the ball," said Krawitz, 38, who testified at Monday's session in favor the original proposal. The initial measure had asked the AMA to endorse the compassionate use of marijuana as last-resort treatment for seriously ill patients.

"It's sad that the doctors didn't really take a step to be a leader," said Krawitz, who said an overseas doctor prescribes him marijuana to ease the pain from debilitating injuries he suffered in a motorcycle accident.

But Dr. Stuart Gitlow, an AMA delegate from the American Society of Addiction Medicine who opposed the resolution, said the AMA "took the scientifically sound course of action."

In other action Tuesday:

— Delegates rejected lobbying for a ban on advertising prescription drugs directly to consumers, instead approving a resolution calling for such ads to note that doctors might recommend a different drug.

— Delegates agreed to form a committee to investigate a lawsuit filed by Dr. E. Ratcliffe Anderson Jr., the AMA's chief executive officer. He charges the AMA's board took away his power to fire the general counsel after he complained the lawyer failed to exercise due diligence in the sale of AMA property. He told delegates he supported the measure.

— The AMA also, for the second year in a row, rejected a resolution asking it to endorse a moratorium on executions. Opponents called it a legal issue, not a medical one. The AMA did reaffirm its opposition to physicians participating in executions.