Modernizing the AMA Code of Medical Ethics

ACS Delegation at the AMA HOD

John H. Armstrong, MD, FACS, Delegation Chair; acute care surgery, Tallahassee, FL

Brian Gavitt, MD, ACS Resident and Fellow Section delegate

Jacob Moalem, MD, FACS, ACS Young Fellows Association and ACS Young Physician Section Delegate; general surgery, Rochester, NY

Leigh Neumayer, MD, FACS, general surgery, Tucson, AZ, ACS Regent

Naveen Sangji, MD, General surgery resident, Boston, MA

Patricia L. Turner, MD, FACS, Chair-Elect, Council on Medical Education; general surgery, Chicago, IL, Director, ACS Division of Member Services, Chicago, IL

At its June meeting, the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates (HOD) will revisit an issue that has been at the forefront of the organization’s activities for two years—updating, or modernizing, the organization’s Code of Medical Ethics. The AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs began this arduous task in 2014. The HOD was involved throughout the process, holding open forums and discussions at reference committee hearings. The complexity of this task, as well as the serious nature of the project, resulted in thoughtful recommendations from delegates and the specialty societies, including the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Committee on Ethics.


First adopted in 1847, the AMA Code of Medical Ethics has been revised on several occasions: first in 1903 and then in 1957, 1980, and 2001. The pace of change in medicine and surgery—particularly with respect to advances in technology—has made more frequent updates necessary. Telemedicine, for example, is constantly evolving, and the profession must keep up with the ethical dilemmas that arise from this type of innovation.

The Code of Medical Ethics plays an important role in the disciplinary actions of state medical boards. In its Essentials of a State Medical and Osteopathic Practice Act, the Federation of State Medical Boards recommends that boards “be authorized to take disciplinary action for unprofessional or dishonorable conduct, including…engaging in conduct calculated to, or having the effect of, bringing the medical profession into disrepute, including but not limited to, violation of any provision of a national code of ethics acknowledged by the Board.”* In this case, nearly all state boards see the AMA Code of Medical Ethics as the national code, making it critical that revisions be made in a serious and thoughtful manner with input from all interested parties.

ACS delegation

The June AMA HOD Annual Meeting will provide another opportunity for the HOD to discuss the modernization of the code, along with many other issues. The College’s delegation to the HOD, under the guidance and direction of the ACS Committee on Ethics, will represent the ACS during discussion of the most current draft of the code.

The surgeons who serve as delegates for the ACS commit considerable time and energy to representing the positions and policies of the College: A list of the ACS delegates appears in the sidebar.

It is not always easy to predict what issues will come before the HOD. At the November 2015 meeting, for example, in addition to modernization of the AMA Code of Medical Ethics, the HOD discussed funding for graduate medical education, a potential ban on direct-to-consumer advertising by pharmaceutical and device manufacturers, alternative pathways to board recertification, and pharmaceutical costs.

In June, the ACS delegation will represent the College on all of the issues “with skill and fidelity.” Questions regarding the HOD may be directed to

*Federation of State Medical Boards. Essentials of a State Medical and Osteopathic Practice Act. FSMB Policies. April 2015. Available at: Accessed March 1, 2016.

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