Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The AAFP Opens the Door for No Free Lunch

An email press release by the organization No Free Lunch today reveals that the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has reversed its previous decision (see post here), and will now allow No Free Lunch to have a booth in the exhibition hall during the AAFP annual meeting in San Francisco.
The email stated,
Following an outcry from among its members, the American Academy of Family Physicians has reversed its earlier decision to deny a booth to No Free Lunch and has invited the organization to exhibit at its meeting next week in San Francisco.
In August, The AAFP rejected No Free Lunch’s application to exhibit at its annual meeting—which will be attended by some 5,000 family physicians and slightly fewer exhibitors—stating that No Free Lunch’s position was “not within the character and purpose of the Scientific Assembly.” This despite the fact that the Coca-Cola Company, The McDonald’s Corporation, and The Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. were all allotted space in the hall, as were countless pharmaceutical companies.
Many members were upset and even outraged that a society which they had supported for many years, and which gives industry almost unlimited access to physicians at its meetings, would not allow a small organization of health professionals to voice an opposing view. Allen Pelletier, for example, a family physician from Memphis, Tennessee, a long time AAFP member and newly elected fellow of the Academy, in an e-mail to AAFP CEO Dr. Douglas Henley, wrote “To my embarrassment, the organization that represents me as a practitioner and teacher of family medicine has shut down the possibility of open (and yes, critical) dialogue about how our practices are influenced by the pharmaceutical industry.” A family physician and AAFP member for 25 years from East Lansing, Michigan, wrote “. . . if an organization like No Free Lunch, well known for the role that it has played in encouraging awareness among physicians of the negative impact of pharmaceutical marketing, is denied the opportunity to set up a booth at the meeting, while commercial sponsors are encouraged to pay extra for more access to members and attendees, then the professional values of our specialty society have truly reached a new low.”
Good for AAFP for reversing course here. The issue, as the above AAFP members' emails made clear, was not whether AAFP should adopt No Free Luncrecommendationsomendations. The issue was a free speech issue, whether AAFP was willing to give No Free Lunch the opportunity to speak out about recommendationsomendations, even if their mode of expression is not as gentile as the AAFP might prefer, and everecommendationsomendations may upset some people. The AAFP already allows commercial interests to speak out about their wares. Their mode of expression may be polished, but is backed by plenty of money and marketing muscle.
Finally, the reasons the American College of Physicians (ACP) banned No Free Lunch from their last meeting remain murky. The public documentation about this decision only includes press releases by No Free Lunch and the ACP, and an article in the Wall Street Journal (available here). The ACP contended that No Free Lunch "caused trouble at its 2001 meeting, even sneaking in an undercover TV crew. Dr. Goodman [the leader of No Free Lunch] says that even if there were some problems, which he isn't sure is[sic] the case, that they weren't orchestrated by the organization" (per the Wall Street Journal). Again, in my humble opinion, an organization with an ethical and academic mission (like the ACP) ought to bend over backwards to ensure free expression and open communication , especially when one side of the argument is made by large, rich, and powerful organizations like big pharma corporations.

1 comment:

Lee Green MD MPH said...

I'm proud of the AAFP (of which I'm a member) for its willingness to listen, to talk directly with No Fair Lunch and with AAFP membership, reconsider and take a position that shows its commitment to integrity and openness. No Fair Lunch gets in like everyone else, has to behave itself like everyone else, dissenting viewpoints get heard. Can't ask for fairer.