Hoping to blunt dissent in its rank and file, the American Medical Association's leadership is preparing a report on the group's scuttled endorsement deal with Sunbeam Corp. to be delivered to members of the group's chief policymaking body.
The report for the AMA's 475-member House of Delegates comes as at least two local chapters have drafted resolutions that call on the delegates to convene a "nonconflicted" investigatory committee from within its membership to review the deal.
That panel would examine whether AMA trustees and management "acted outside their spheres of authority" in signing the pact to endorse Sunbeam products, according to the proposed resolutions.
The South Dakota State Medical Association late last week was to consider sending the resolution, drafted by the Chicago Medical Society, to the AMA delegates for consideration at their December meeting in Dallas. The Chicago Medical Society will take up the same resolution in November.
So far, the only known investigation of the deal was done internally by AMA General Counsel Kirk Johnson. Although Johnson's department signed off on the deal, AMA executives have been adamant about Johnson himself not being involved in the Sunbeam contract.
That investigation led to the ouster of three AMA executives after a closed-door meeting of the AMA's board of trustees Sept. 18 (Sept. 22, p. 3). AMA spokesman Craig May said no AMA employees other than the three were fired.
Under the five-year contract with Sunbeam, unveiled last month, the AMA agreed to endorse Sunbeam healthcare products in exchange for royalties from the sale of those products. Criticism of the deal from inside and outside of the medical community prompted the AMA to back out of the deal. Sunbeam subsequently filed suit against the AMA to force the association to honor the contract or pay the company $20 million in damages.
The report to the delegates may be necessary to pave the way for a settlement with Sunbeam, said sources close to the AMA. That's because the AMA would need approval from the delegates before tapping association reserves to pay off Sunbeam.
Before voting in favor of spending money from the reserve fund for a settlement, delegates probably would want an adequate explanation of the conduct of the AMA's leadership and staff in putting together the Sunbeam deal, the sources said.
The sources estimated the AMA has reserves of $120 million to $180 million.
The AMA was expected to respond this week to Sunbeam's lawsuit.
Last week a group of medical ethicists from prominent university medical schools, including New England Journal of Medicine editor emeritus Arnold Relman, M.D., called on the AMA to abstain from any future product endorsements.
"Such activities inevitably blur the distinction between professional and business objectives and diminish respect for the AMA and the profession it represents," said a statement signed by the ethicists.