The president of the Chicago-based American Medical Association, Gerald E. Harmon, M.D., wrote on Friday in Crain’s Chicago Business that employers should impose COVID vaccine mandates as a condition of employment.
Last week’s decision by the United States Supreme Court invalidating the Biden Administration’s attempt to force employers to do so “should not,” Harmon wrote, “prevent these employers from doing what must be done in the name of public health: requiring vaccines to protect their workers, our communities and our nation from the ravages of this pandemic.”
“Our only hope is that large employers do what’s right—not only for their own employees and their families, but for the health of our nation,” says Harmon.
If only we could hope that Harmon and his association would honor their own code of ethics. The AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 2.1.1 says this:
Informed consent to medical treatment is fundamental in both ethics and law. Patients have the right to receive information and ask questions about recommended treatments so that they can make well-considered decisions about care. Successful communication in the patient-physician relationship fosters trust and supports shared decision making. The process of informed consent occurs when communication between a patient and physician results in the patient’s authorization or agreement to undergo a specific medical intervention.
That’s a plain statement of the informed consent doctrine, which is among the most widely recognized and time-honored principles of medical ethics here and abroad. Everybody of sufficient age and sound mind is supposed to have right to decide what is to be done to his or her body.
It’s “arguably the most deeply rooted doctrine in contemporary medical ethics,” wrote two medical ethics experts last year in the Wall Street Journal. In that column, a director of the Medical Ethics Program at the University of California, Irvine and a law professor at Notre Dame wrote, “Authorities rushing to implement mandatory vaccination protocols are ignoring available scientific data, basic principles of immunology and elementary norms.”
The AMA’s Code of Ethics is for physicians, not employers, but that’s precisely what makes Harmon’s indifference to the principle of informed consent so egregious. He is effectively calling on employers to override the physician-patient relationship entirely, thereby avoiding the duty physicians would have to honor it.
That workaround may not fly legally since employers may have a legal duty to get informed consent to coerced vaccinations, at least as some mandate opponents see things. I have no opinion on that; the point here is not about the legalities.
The point, instead, is about doing what is right and what is ethical. It’s the principle that matters, and it should matter not just for physicians. The AMA’s code of ethics properly states that principle and it is rightly applied to any person or entity, including employers, who are in a position to force medical treatment on somebody else. Harmon and the AMA apparently care nothing about that principle.
Harmon went on to cite as “evidence of a vaccine mandate’s effectiveness” the case of United Airlines, which imposed a vax mandate on its employees. That’s not scientific evidence. Harmon ignored countless studies now available addressing many points of debate about the vax.
What we do know is that experts seem to agree that the vax significantly reduces chances of hospitalization or death. But it has also become clear that the vax is of little or no value in reducing spread of the virus to others, which we wrote about last week. That destroys any rationale for mandates by employers or anybody else. Vaccinations affect only the vaccinated so the decision should be left to the individual.
The only other possible rationale for an employer mandate is the hospital and staff overload, which is real in many locations. But that overload results largely from mandates themselves, imposed on healthcare workers, many of whom have quit as a consequence. The Supreme Court upheld that mandate on any recipient of federal funding, which includes most every hospital and provider.
The load on hospitals and healthcare workers is also undoubtedly attributable in large part to the indifference of most of the medical establishments to treatments. The best, newest treatments are in such short supply that they are now rationed by the federal government. The AMA, like the federal government, systematically ignored therapeutics from the start, focusing almost exclusively on the vaccines and masks as prevention, which has turned out to be futile. Had development and distribution of therapeutics been emphasized early, countless victims might never be reaching the hospital. The AMA shares blame for that.
Finally, Harmon complained about politicized science. “It is most unfortunate that politicization of the virus and the vaccines developed to protect against severe illness and death has become a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to defeating the pandemic.”
The AMA and Harmon are perhaps the least credible voices in America to be complaining about politicized science. They have gone to truly absurd lengths inserting woke, racial politics into healthcare, as documented by RealClear Investigations in a two-part series. A lead editorial in the AMA journal’s August special issue dedicated to racial health disparities called systemic racism “a scientific fact beyond dispute and said all medical journals are morally obligated to document it in their research.”
Even The Atlantic, which is very progressive, ridiculed the AMA and Harmon for the damage their racial politics are inflicting on medical science and on the genuine interests of disadvantaged people. And dissenting from the AMA’s racial politics can jeopardize you job, The Atlantic wrote.
Let’s hope employers are more ethical than Harmon and the American Medical Association.