Features
Benjamin Schipper

Second opinions

Medicine | Liberal policies at major medical associations are hard pills for conservative doctors to swallow, and some are fighting back with alternative groups

Issue: "Day of reckoning," June 14, 2014

Last year in June, one of the largest medical societies in the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), published a policy statement describing how doctors should treat “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.” Pediatricians, the organization warned, should guard themselves against “homophobia and heterosexism,” which it claimed could contribute to “higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation, higher rates of substance abuse, and more sexually transmitted and HIV infections.” It added that doctors should never refer such patients for “conversion” or “reparative therapy.”

Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist from Atlanta and a 37-year member of AAP, was outraged: There was no evidence the health risks linked with LGBTQ lifestyles were primarily driven by social stigmatization. After nearly four decades of heavy involvement in the AAP—including serving as chairman of the Uniformed Services West chapter—Van Meter decided not to pay his $650 annual dues.

When a member services employee called, Van Meter told her the AAP no longer represented his views. She answered, “Yeah, we’ve heard a lot of that,” the doctor recalls.

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For Van Meter, the LGBTQ policy was one overdose too many. Back in 1976—the year he became a member—the organization had been more ideologically balanced. But by the late ’80s and ’90s, he says, AAP leaders were appearing in photo ops with Democratic politicians and promoting gun control across the United States.

“Whatever the Democrats wanted, the AAP said, ‘How high should we jump, and what should we say?’” says Van Meter. “I’m saddened that something that could have turned out to be very beneficial for kids has actually turned out to be a political slimeball.”

AAP is one of several mainstream medical associations founded decades ago that appear to have trended leftward in recent years. They were created to represent and further the interests of the medical field and local doctors, but increasingly, conservatives who belong to them believe their views are no longer represented among leadership.

The stakes are high: Groups like the AAP, the American Medical Association, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists spend hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying lawmakers in Washington, D.C., pressing for changes to healthcare insurance, abortion laws, sex education funding, and more. They publish regular policy statements intended to reflect best practices in their fields. Doctors, lawmakers, and even judges use the statements to guide their own decisions.

Conservatives see the leftward lurch and want to push back, but as Van Meter says of the AAP, “If you don’t believe in the political views of the leadership … you are shunned.” Instead, some are joining smaller, distinctly conservative medical associations that are acting as an antidote to their liberal counterparts.

ONE OF THEM is the American College of Pediatricians (ACP), where Van Meter serves as a board member: “We are all about science. We are all about proofs.” The organization is not religiously affiliated, but Van Meter describes members as “moral people who are like-minded, and want truth, and want what’s best for children.”

Den Trumbull, the president of the organization, became fed up with AAP in 2002, when the organization issued a controversial policy statement in favor of allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.

“They said it was based on science,” says Trumbull. But he and many of his colleagues found it to be shaky science: In the technical report accompanying the statement, the AAP argued children of same-sex couples were emotionally and socially well-adjusted. Yet, they admitted of their research, “the small and nonrepresentative samples studied and the relatively young age of most of the children suggest some reserve.”

That year, Trumbull and three other doctors—including former AAP  president Joseph Zanga—founded the ACP as an alternative pediatric association. “All of us were members of the AAP,” says Trumbull, a pediatrician from Montgomery, Ala. “We felt like the AAP was increasingly placing its social issue policy on political correctness and not on science.”

The ACP promotes abstinence before marriage, respects the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, and recognizes the “father-mother family unit, within the context of marriage, to be the optimal setting for childhood development.” Citing scientific studies, it opposes same-sex parenting as potentially harmful to children, and calls it “unethical” for doctors to withhold psychotherapy as an option for adolescents questioning their sexuality. (Some research suggests as many as 75 percent of youth who experience same-sex attraction ultimately declare themselves heterosexual.)

Since 2012, by contrast, AAP has issued policy statements in support of gay marriage, in favor of providing teens with emergency contraceptives and condoms, and in opposition to parents keeping guns in their homes.

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