President's Message

Physicians to Administration: Stay Out of Doctor-Patient Relationship

May 23, 2018 10:34 am Michael Munger, M.D.

Michael Munger, M.D.

The administration has proposed a significant change(www.hhs.gov) to the rule that determines which individuals and organizations are eligible for Title X family planning funds, and it's a move that threatens to get between family physicians and our patients. The change would stop these funds from going to any clinic that provides abortion services, so many of the comments from the public are focusing on abortion and related services. But the move is dangerous for far more fundamental reasons. The real danger is the unprecedented step this proposal takes to influence the patient-physician relationship.

The AAFP has long stood opposed to anything that intrudes on family physicians' relationships with our patients. This proposal does that by putting other concerns above our ethical obligations to patients. The Academy respects the right of physicians to decline to participate in health care services that they're morally opposed to. However, the AAFP also strongly supports a physician's ability to deliver legal medical services.

The AMA Code of Medical Ethics summarizes this obligation succinctly, stating that "The physician has an ethical obligation to help the patient make choices from among the therapeutic alternatives consistent with good medical practice." The new proposal from the administration is inconsistent with this principle. It threatens to create obstacles for patients who are trying to receive legal, medically appropriate and acceptable medical services.

The AAFP, in collaboration with three other medical organizations -- the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and American College of Physicians -- has issued a set of joint principles related to legislative interference in the patient-physician relationship. We shared these principles with the administration and the press in response to the new proposal, and we will continue to express our concerns to the administration in our ongoing advocacy on behalf of physicians and our patients.

Michael Munger, M.D., is president of the AAFP.