One of the great myths of politics is that the policy stances of medical associations reflect the views of most doctors. But that claim is being dispelled more and more as medical associations continue to take political stances far afield from the mainstream of society.
For example, the American Medical Association has debated removing sex from birth certificates, saying there is “no clear standard for defining sex designation” and that designating sex on birth certificates “as male or female suggests that sex is simple and binary.”
The AMA has also adopted a “strategic plan” to embed “racial justice and equity at the core of our AMA strategy” by “consistently using lenses of racial, gender, LGBTQ+, disability, class and social justices.” That plan also decries “the myth of meritocracy, and other malignant narratives.”
In 2019, the AMA’s House of Delegates only narrowly rejected a measure to drop the organization’s longstanding opposition to a government-run health-care system.
Given those stances, it’s reasonable for citizens to wonder if the doctors involved in the AMA have the expertise to identify and slap a baby’s bottom, let alone deliver one. While the AMA portrays itself as the voice of most doctors, that isn’t the case. It’s estimated as few as 15 percent of doctors belong to the group. In other words, if you think the AMA’s policy stances appear to be fringe, the group’s lack of broad physician membership bolsters that conclusion.
Things are little different at the state level. The Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA) claims to represent “4,000 physicians and medical students.” But that isn’t even half the physician workforce in Oklahoma.
And, like the AMA, the OSMA has taken stances that will surprise most Oklahomans.
This year, the OSMA opposed legislation that would have protected Oklahomans from “surprise” medical bills by requiring a good-faith cost estimate in advance of treatment.
The OSMA also opposed numerous bills focused on reducing abortion, even though numerous doctors statewide are not fans of abortion.
The OSMA also sued to overturn a new law that bans mask mandates when there is no declared health emergency. The evidence for mask effectiveness in reducing COVID-19 spread is, to be charitable, mixed at best, yet the OSMA wants government mandates to replace individual consultation with one’s physician when it comes to this decision.
Obviously, doctors have the right to join any group they prefer and to lobby politicians on issues. But the same is true for all Oklahomans of all backgrounds. There’s no reason policymakers should treat the views of groups like the AMA and OSMA as though they hold any special moral authority that exceeds the influence of other constituent groups—especially when membership data shows that many doctors hold views other than those espoused by the AMA and OSMA.
Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).