The American Medical Association today approved the use of painkilling and addicting opiate drugs in cases of painful terminal illness.
The AMA delegates at their annual meeting voted on this and dozens of other issues, including the adoption of a report recommending that state medical groups begin an attack on drug abuse in which doctors play a part, intentionally or not.
The AMA report suggested that states consider establishing as regular practice a 48-hour delay between the time a prescription is written for such drugs as amphetamines and methaqualones; a verifying telephone call from the pharmacist filling the prescriptions to the doctor who wrote them; a halt in the practice of preprinting doctors' federal drug control numbers on prescription forms, and asking doctors to help find and prosecute "script doctors" who write illegal prescriptions for profit.
Delegates also voted to table a resolution on infant-formula sales around the world. The resolution would have put the assembly on record as supporting the World Health Organization's restrictions on advertising and other marketing techniques.
In the action on giving opiate drugs to terminally ill patients, Dr. Henry Twelmeyer of Wisconsin, chairman of the AMA committee that presented the resolution, said that "there are apparently many doctors who are worried more about the addiction that can result from using these drugs than about the pain in terminal illness."
He said the cases of terminal patients who might need opiate drugs are fairly common, and "in my practice it's never been a problem because I do what I have to do and have no compunctions about it." He said some doctors need encouragement to stop worrying about long-term addiction in such cases; the resolution was aimed at opening those doors.
The AMA also refused to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment, but the nearly all-male body of delegates did, for the first time, affirm "the concept of equal rights for men and women."
The AMA in the past has supported statements of equal opportunity for women within the medical professions, but has always stopped short of endorsing equal rights for men and women in society generally.
Pleas for the ERA were made on several grounds including that the AMA membership has been slipping because younger doctors object to "what the AMA stands for," as one medical student put it, and on the grounds that ailments are created among women -- including depression, ulcers and skin rashes -- because they are frustrated by unequal treatment.
Before the resolutions and ERA were fairly shouted down by the largely gray-haired delegate assembly, Dr. Mary Donald of Massachusetts told the delegates: "I'm sure you have all heard how God made Adam and then She corrected her mistake [with the creation of Eve] . . . but we still have laws discriminating against women in this country. Gentlemen, it is time to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment."
One delegate spoke briefly against ERA by saying that his daughter, a doctor, was recently offered "a situation, with apologies, at a starting salary of $81,000." The delegate smiled and sat down.
Some delegates, away from the microphone, said something similar to the comment by Dr. Samuel Sherman of San Francisco. "I'm all for it but I don't know if the AMA should be supporting things that don't have to do with medicine. ERA and hand guns, things like that."
After voting down the ERA, the delegates approved a resolution supporting "the concept of equal rights for men and women" and ordered AMA publications to begin carrying educational material on the ERA.
The AMA meeting will continue throughout this week and consider about 175 separate issue including handgun restrictions, divesting AMA of its tobacco industry holdings, support for a ban on federal subsidies to the tobacco industry, a resolution declaring President Reagan's nominee for surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, unqualified for the job and a resolution protesting the federal government program to insert drug information packages along with prescription drugs sold to patients.