- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 1999

The American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted a policy advocating condom distribution in schools and downplaying the value of abstinence-only education.
The policy, approved without fanfare earlier this month, has begun to circulate, and some doctors, including Rep. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, have criticized it as “politically correct” and medically irresponsible.
An AMA spokesman yesterday defended the policy as prudent and science-based.
“I think we’re on the side of angels on this,” said Dr. John C. Nelson, a member of the AMA Board of Trustees.
U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher supports the policy, he noted, as do groups such as the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.
At a meeting of the AMA’s House of Delegates in San Diego Dec. 7, the group’s Council on Scientific Affairs presented a revised policy on sexuality education, abstinence and distribution of condoms.
The policy concluded that, based on studies in professional literature:
c Safer-sex programs can be effective in delaying the onset of sexual intercourse in teens.
c School-based condom distribution programs help increase condom use without hastening the onset of sexual activity.
c Abstinence-only programs are of “very limited value” and require rigorous evaluation “before they can be supported as changing students’ risky sexual behavior.”
The new policy requires that several sections be deleted. As a result, the AMA will no longer say that it supports efforts to “make abstinent sexual behavior more socially acceptable.” It also no longer says it supports public health education activities that teach teens that “premarital sexual abstinence is an effective means of avoiding unwanted pregnancy and other health risks.”
“I am extremely disappointed in the AMA,” said Dr. Coburn, an AMA member.
The AMA promotes “the best medical advice in every other area of public health except sexuality,” he said. “But when it comes to sex, we don’t have the courage, as an institution, to give the best medical advice, which is to be sexually abstinent until you’re in a married, monogamous relationship” due to the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Promoting condom programs over abstinence-only programs “represents the politics of political correctness inside the AMA not the doctors in the country and I’m sick of it,” added Dr. Coburn.
The AMA policy “simply parrots the same line the condom industry has been spouting for years,” said Dr. John Diggs, spokesman for the Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils, an association of 2,000 doctors.
Dr. Joseph McIlhaney Jr., another AMA member, said that condoms offer only “erratic” protection against genital warts, chlamydia and herpes three of the most hard-to-detect STDs.
Evaluations of abstinence-only programs funded by the federal government have only just begun, said Dr. McIlhaney, who leads the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas.
He said it is premature of the AMA to dismiss abstinence-only efforts as ineffective especially since teen pregnancy, birth and STD rates all climbed during the years when “safe sex” approaches were popular.
Kathleen Sullivan, leader of the Project Reality abstinence program in Golf, Ill., said the AMA panel was “oblivious” to the many favorable evaluations of abstinence programs, including “Choosing the Best;” “Facing Reality;” “Me, My World, My Future;” “Sexuality, Commitment and Family;” and “Best Friends.”
Dr. Nelson, the AMA trustee, said that the group’s policy is “incredibly responsible” and dismissed claims that it was a political creation.
“We don’t have the right to legislate’ [morality],” he said. “We’re trying to make a policy that fits everybody.
“We’re saying that families [teach sex education at home] that’s the best place to teach it. If it’s not done there, then the fall back is the school. But whatever we teach, let’s have some science behind it. If we’re faulted for that … I don’t know to respond.”

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