NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Controversy erupted at the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates interim meeting over a resolution urging the association to support a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Hussein Antar, MD, MPH, alternate delegate from Massachusetts who was speaking on behalf of the Resident and Fellow Section, called for reconsideration of a statement declaring the AMA’s support for “a ceasefire in Israel and Palestine in order to protect civilian lives and healthcare personnel.”
The house’s Resolution Committee recommended the statement not be considered at this meeting. However, any delegate can contest those recommendations, with the understanding that all resolutions considered at the interim meeting must either relate to AMA advocacy or AMA ethics, or be deemed so urgent that discussion cannot be delayed until the next meeting, according to House of Delegates Speaker Lisa Bohman Egbert, MD.
Antar argued that the resolution met the criteria of the AMA’s bylaws regarding advocacy and immediacy. He began by acknowledging the “deep pain” the situation in Israel and Palestine has already inflicted on members of the House of Delegates. Since the resolution was finalized 72 hours earlier, six hospitals had been bombed and more than 60 medical personnel on both sides had died, in addition to the “tragic loss of more than 13,000 lives,” he said.
“We wholeheartedly support the statement by the board,” Antar said, referring to a November 9 statement by the AMA’s Board of Trustees which called for “medical neutrality.” That statement:
- Implores “all parties at all times to understand and minimize the health costs of war on civilian populations”
- Supports “physicians around the world to practice medicine ethically in any and all circumstances, including during wartime” without having to “fear persecution”
- Condemns “the military targeting of healthcare facilities”
“But we believe the largest physician group in the United States can and should do more than that. This issue is too vital for us to evade discussion,” Antar argued.
Andrew Gurman, MD, a former AMA president who was speaking on his own behalf, opposed consideration of the policy statement at this meeting. “This resolution deals with a geopolitical issue, which is in no way the purview of this house,” he said, adding that the house’s role is to debate problems facing doctors and patients in the U.S.
M. Zuhdi Jasser, MD, a delegate from Arizona who spoke on behalf of the PacWest Conference, also opposed consideration of the resolution. “It is not the role of the House of Medicine to get into ‘just war’ or ‘unjust war,'” he said. “I can tell you, … as a Syrian American, many times I’ve felt the inclination that … I wanted the house of medicine to weigh in on the fact that my family was a few miles away from chemical weapons attacks in Syria, that I wanted ISIS decimated … And yet, that was not appropriate, and I never did that,” Jasser argued.
Luis Seija, MD, a delegate speaking on behalf of the Minority Affairs Section, which co-sponsored the resolution, spoke in support of consideration. He read from a “preamble” to the resolution itself, which both highlighted the sensitive nature of the discussion and stressed the urgent need for action.
“Please remember that there are people in the room who have had friends and family killed both on the Israeli and Palestinian sides of this violence,” Seija said.
Egbert interjected to clarify the house’s rules. “What we are discussing right now is whether this is an appropriate resolution for this house to discuss at this meeting,” she said, adding that she was “trying very hard to be very fair.” At her request, Seija discontinued reading his comments. By a vote of 136-458, the House of Delegates decided not to take up the resolution for further discussion at the meeting, although it could be presented again at a future meeting.