Thursday, July 10, 2008
The country's largest medical association issued a formal apology today for its historical antipathy toward African American doctors, expressing regret for a litany of transgressions, including barring black physicians from its ranks for decades and remaining silent during battles on landmark legislation to end racial discrimination. 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.
The American Medical Association (AMA) issued the apology after assembling a panel of experts to analyze the history of the racial divide in medicine. The independent panel has produced a report, due to be published in the July 16 Journal of the American Medical Association, which explores the longstanding historical discrimination.
"The apology is important because a heritage of discrimination is evident in the under-representation of African Americans in medicine generally and in the AMA in particular," said the report's lead author, Robert B. Baker, professor of philosophy at Union College in Schenectady, New York and director of the Union Graduate College-Mount Sinai School of Medicine Bioethics Program. "Patterns of segregated medicine still haunt American health care. The legacy of these decisions affects minority patients on a daily basis." . . .
The panel noted that the AMA permitted state and local medical associations to exclude black physicians, effectively barring these doctors from the national organization. In the early 20th century, the organization listed black doctors as "colored" in its national physician directory. In addition, the AMA was silent during debates over the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, and, for years, declined to join efforts to force hospitals built with federal funds to not discriminate . . . .
Richard Allen Williams, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles and the president of the Minority Health Institute, said the apology is "an excellent gesture of goodwill." "I applaud the AMA for doing this. In the current climate of health care, it is a very timely gesture," he said. "Less than 5 percent of physicians are African Americans, and that needs to be changed. This cannot be changed by African American physicians alone, and we all need to move forward together.". . .