In separate speeches to the American Medical Association's House of Delegates last week, a priest and a politician urged doctors to support their respective causes and reject the agendas of liberals, the president, unions, the media and for-profit medicine.
The AMA's highest policymaking body met in Washington last week at its interim annual meeting (Additional AMA coverage on pages 24, 26). House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin from Chicago addressed the AMA in separate speeches.
Gingrich denounced "liberals who don't think you should listen to doctors" for placing roadblocks in the way of the House Medicare and Medicaid reform bills. The roadblocks include "dishonest" television commercials sponsored by labor unions and other special-interest groups opposed to the Republicans' Medicare and Medicaid reform plans, he said.
"We need your help. We have to overcome $22 million in false advertising by the unions and the left, $1.2 million in false advertising by the Democratic National Committee, and weeks and weeks of false statements by the president of the United States," he said.
Gingrich downplayed a New York Times story that asserted the AMA was at odds with GOP leaders over Medicaid block grants.
The AMA Board of Trustees, in a report to the House of Delegates, said the AMA favors maintaining a national income floor under which Americans would be entitled to receive Medicaid. It also argues for reducing the level of cuts in Medicaid funding. The AMA has not endorsed the Republican block-grant proposal.
"How many of you feel there's a deep split between the practicing patient-care physicians of America and the Republicans who are trying to save Medicare?" Gingrich asked the crowd at the Sheraton Washington hotel.
In his address, Bernardin asked doctors to place their "covenant with patients and society" ahead of commercial and technological pursuits and achieve a moral renewal of medicine.
The head of the Archdiocese of Chicago encouraged physicians to establish "healthcare as a basic human right," to promote public health "in the widest possible sense," and to protect human dignity and life through "stewardship" in a time of limited resources. He linked the professions of medicine and the priesthood as addressing "the universal human need for healing and wholeness" and said they are both challenged from within.
He urged physicians to return to the moral obligations inherent in the doctor-patient relationship and asserted the primacy of that moral obligation over legal or contractual obligations.
The delegates listened attentively to Bernardin's speech, but not all liked his message. Robert J. Jaeger, M.D., an alternate AMA delegate from Wisconsin, said: "I'm a little tired of being told that doctors are what's wrong with medicine."