The American Medical Association's 365-member house of delegates adopted yesterday a controversial resolution calling for the elimination of all forms of boxing and declared that it would work toward that goal.
"The statement is just about as strong as you can get," said Dr. Joseph Boyle, the AMA's president, in a telephone interview. "We encourage elimination of both amateur and professional boxing."
The resolution, approved in an overwhelming voice vote of delegates meeting in Honolulu, called boxing "a sport in which the primary objective is to inflict injury."
The statement strengthened one made by the AMA in 1983 calling for the elimination of amateur boxing, but omitting mention of the professional version of the sport.
The new resolution goes farther than past policy by offering to help "state medical societies to work with their state legislatures to enact laws to eliminate boxing." The AMA said it would communicate its opposition to "appropriate regulatory bodies" and try to educate the American public, "especially children and young adults, about the dangerous effects of boxing on the health of the participants."
Boyle said one reason for the strong AMA stand is because "an accumulating body of evidence now makes it very clear that not only is acute brain injury inflicted by boxing but also permanent brain injury."
He added that boxers often become "mentally less competent than if they had not engaged in this sport . . . We would seem to have given more protection to pit terriers and fighting cocks than . . . we have for people."
Asked if attempts to ban boxing were realistic, Boyle replied, "It's a very difficult thing to accomplish. We realize that."
Predictably, reaction from the boxing community was heated.
"I don't know what the AMA has ever done in a positive way to try and improve the sport," said Mike Trainer, business manager for Sugar Ray Leonard. "One of boxing's problems is that in the past it has been ignored by groups like the AMA, congress and the state legislatures. Now that there's a problem, they say ban it. Does that make any sense logically?
"If they had taken a step, said we have to appoint physicians and help police the sport and they still had problems after that, then I'd listen to them.
"I don't know what the hell the purpose of this AMA thing is, anyway, except to get on the front page.
"We were all waving the flag this summer. Why didn't they do it before the Olympics? It wouldn't have been very popular."
Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, who is known as "the boxing doctor" and is a television commentator on the sport, said that "a more logical approach would be an attempt to institute the safety measures which would obviate the hazards of boxing. Those are not secrets. They've been written about many times."
Pacheco, who said he has been an AMA member for 25 years, called the AMA "a collection of politicians" and "ill-informed and publicity happy.
"If they want to take off after something, take off after professional football," he said. "The list of maimed and injured after each weekend is awesome. Start looking at sports that really cause fatalities -- auto racing, horse racing and football."
Bob Arum, president of Top Rank Productions, one of the leading boxing promoters in the country, called the AMA's action "ludicrous," adding, "It's outrageous for them to be spending time talking about banning boxing instead of addressing the real serious issues that face this country -- the fact that medical care has become so exorbitant that many people, middle-income people, can't afford adequate medical care.
"I think every responsible person in boxing would welcome the participation of responsible medical people in the sport. We all realize the sport is dangerous and things can be done to make it less so."
The AMA represents about 250,000 doctors, about half the physicians in the United States. It made its first statement on boxing in 1962, and in recent years has been moving toward yesterday's vote to encourage an all-out ban.
The AMA adopted a resolution in 1982 concluding that a ban would be unrealistic, but recommending improvements in the administration of boxing and the sport's medical practices.
In January 1983, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, George D. Lundberg, called for the outlawing of boxing in the United States and other "civilized" nations, saying that 15 percent of all professional boxers suffer brain damage. In an official statement at the time, the AMA did not ask for a ban but called for "strict medical supervision" of amateur and professional matches.
In June 1983, the AMA's house of delegates called for the elimination of amateur boxing. In May 1984, the Journal of the American Medical Association issued its second call for the banning of all forms of boxing. The first editorial, and the deaths of at least 11 boxers from ring injuries over the next year and a half, prompted several states to pass laws to protect boxers, including tighter medical supervision. But no measures will alleviate boxing's "most serious problem . . . chronic brain damage," Lundberg wrote.
Among those who testified before an AMA committee Monday was U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who said he sees boxing as part of the major public health problem of violence in American life.