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AMA moves to end bias against gays

The American Medical Association has banned discrimination against homosexual doctors in the AMA.

"We are very pleased at what happened today," Dr. John Clowe, outgoing AMA president, said of policy-makers' decision Tuesday to add the words "sexual orientation" to the group's non-discrimination bylaw.

"There are many physicians in this country who feel they have been denied a place at the discussion in the (AMA) House of Delegates, in the house of medicine itself," Clowe added at a news conference after the vote at the AMA's annual meeting.

The policy-making House of Delegates had wrestled with the issue for five years. Opponents argued that the 297,000-member AMA has never refused membership to gay doctors and that changing the bylaw would imply otherwise.

But in testimony at an AMA hearing Monday, several homosexual physicians said they fear disclosing their sexual orientation to colleagues. They said many gay patients also fear revealing their orientation to physicians.

Benjamin Schatz, executive director of the gay-oriented American Association of Physicians for Human Rights, said the vote Tuesday acknowledged that gay physicians are an increasing force in medicine. He said his San Francisco-based group has doubled in size over the past year to more than 1,000 members in 46 states.

Clowe emphasized that "we are not condoning any lifestyle at all," and said the bylaw change would prevent the issue from returning year after year.

This was the first year that the AMA's 17-member board of trustees had backed a ban. Clowe said similar policies have been adopted by the American Dental Association, ATT and IBM.

In other action, the AMA took stands against smoking in prisons and alcohol advertising on mass-transit systems.