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AMA exec steps down; officials weigh endorsement policy

December 4, 1997

DALLAS (AP) _ The American Medical Association’s executive vice president resigned today, four months after the group was caught up in a controversy over a proposed deal to endorse Sunbeam Corp. health care products.

AMA spokesman Craig May said Dr. P. John Seward’s resignation was accepted by the organization’s board of trustees this morning and a successor was expected to be named in the next 24 hours. The AMA’s policy-setting House of Delegates will be discussing the group’s policy on endorsements this weekend.

The endorsement controversy exploded in August after Seward, who took office in early 1996, told a news conference that the AMA had made a five-year deal with Sunbeam to endorse its home health-care products.

The AMA was to receive millions of dollars in royalties in exchange for putting its seal of approval on such products as humidifiers and blue-pressure monitors under the exclusive arrangement. The AMA had no plans to test the products.

Critics in and out of the group said the AMA appeared to be commercializing its carefully honed family-doctor image. Within a week, the AMA was seeking to rescind its agreement with Sunbeam, which is now suing to enforce the deal or collect damages that it says could top $20 million.

Even though it backed out of the Sunbeam deal, the AMA’s board of trustees is recommending guidelines that could cover endorsement deals.

AMA President Dr. Nancy W. Dickey said today that the organization doesn’t plan to pursue corporate endorsement deals, and that the proposed guidelines are intended primarily to govern the AMA’s relationships with corporations that provide money for education and research programs.

``Endorsements have significant potential problems,″ she said. ``The AMA currently has no endorsements and does not anticipate any.″

However, she said the guidelines also would be used to evaluate any endorsement proposals that corporations might bring to the AMA. The proposal goes to the AMA’s policy-setting House of Delegates on Sunday. May said the delegates can approve, reject or change the proposal.

The recommendation from the board of trustees sets out safeguards to try to prevent a repeat of the Sunbeam furor, including requiring approval at the AMA’s highest levels, said the Chicago Sun-Times, which reported on the guidelines today. But the board’s report does not discuss product testing _ or whether the AMA should endorse corporate products or services at all, the newspaper said.

AMA critics said the association would lose credibility if it appears to be trading its reputation for cash.

``This will decide whether or not the AMA will continue as a professional association or merely as a trade association,″ said Dr. Ann Marie Dunlap, a Chicago critic of the commercialization of medicine.

The 150-year-old AMA is the nation’s largest organization of physicians, representing just over 40 percent of the nation’s doctors.

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