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AMA Found Guilty of Antitrust Conspiracy against Chiropractors

August 29, 1987 GMT

CHICAGO (AP) _ The American Medical Association led an effort to destroy the chiropractic profession by depriving its practitioners of association with medical doctors and calling them ″unscientific cultists″ or worse, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Susan Getzendanner described the conspiracy as ″systematic, long-term wrongdoing and the long-term intent to destroy a licensed profession″ in ruling late Thursday on a 1976 antitrust lawsuit.

Ms. Getzendanner’s decision said the nation’s largest physicians’ group spearheaded a physicians’ boycott designed ″to contain and eliminate the chiropractic profession.″

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A top AMA official denied the judge’s allegation. ″We don’t think there was ever a boycott or a conspiracy,″ said Dr. Alan Nelson, chairman of the AMA board of trustees, in a telephone interview Friday from Salt Lake City.

Chiropractic is a method of treatment based on the theory that disease is caused by interference with nerve function, which practioners try to correct by manipulating the spine and other joints.

In addition to ″labeling all chiropractors unscientific cultists and depriving chiropractors of association with medical physicians, injury to reputation was assured by the AMA’s name-calling practice,″ Ms. Getzendanner said.

″For example, in 1973 ... an AMA official described chiropractors as rabid dogs and killers.″

The lawsuit, filed by four chiropractors, accused the Chicago-based AMA, four AMA officials and 10 additional medical groups of conspiring to prevent chiropractors from practicing in the United States.

Ms. Getzendanner held that the American College of Surgeons and the American College of Radiology had participated in the conspiracy with the AMA. Thomas Greeson, attorney for the Reston, Va.-based radiologists group, said he was studying the ruling and would have no immediate comment. The spokeswoman for the Chicago-based surgeons’ group, Linn Meyer, was not at work Friday and unavailable for comment, said an aide, Joanne Baran.

The judge scheduled a Sept. 4 meeting of the parties involved in the lawsuit to determine a remedy.

The lawsuit sought no monetary damages but it challenged the defendants’ refusal to acknowledge chiropractors’ professional abilities.

Kirk Johnson, the AMA’s general counsel, questioned the ruling.

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″To me, the decision is wrong because we have had a policy which has been very clear for a long time that it is not unethical to associate with a chiropractor if you believe that it is in the patient’s best interest,″ he said Friday.

The plaintiffs were to submit by Sept. 4 ″some kind of proposed injunction,″ Johnson said, adding that a decision on an appeal would be made when the injunction was issued.

″I am absolutely convinced the AMA will appeal,″ the plaintiffs’ attorney, George McAndrews, said Friday.

″The four chiropractors have weathered 11 years of hell to call the AMA and its co-conspirators into account,″ McAndrews said.

″The true beneficiaries might be the people who now will have the right to referral from medical physicians to chiropractors in those areas where chiropractors have superior expertise,″ he said.

Michael Pedigo of San Leandro, Calif., one of the plaintiffs, said he and other chiropractors wanted ″to be allowed to compete freely in the marketplace.″

He said AMA policy had forbidden doctors from referring patients to chiropractors or accepting referrals from chiropractors, though some doctors ignored those rules, ″bucking the might of the AMA.″

The boycott also extended to medical education, with medical doctors forbidden to lecture before classes of chiropractic students, Pedigo said.

Other plaintiffs were Chester Wilk of Park Forest, Ill; Patricia Arthur of Dayton, Ohio; and James Bryden of Sedalia, Mo.

Ms. Getzendanner said the function of the AMA’s Committee on Quackery formed in 1962 was to destroy the chiropractic profession.

The panel was in fact presented with evidence that ″some physicians believed chiropractic to be effective and that chiropractors were better trained to deal with muscular-skeletal problems than medical physicians,″ she said.

While the AMA contends the anti-chiropractic effort ended in 1980, Ms. Getzendanner noted that the organization ″had never acknowledged the lawlessness of its past conduct and maintains to this day it has always been in compliance with antitrust laws.″

″There has never been an affirmative statement by the AMA that it is ethical to associate with chiropractors,″ she said.

Ms. Getzendanner dismissed charges against three defendants, the American College of Physicians, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Charges also were dismissed against AMA Trustee James H. Sammons of Chicago, who had served as head of the Committee on Quackery, which was disbanded in 1974.

Charges against three other AMA officials had been dismissed earlier.

Five defendants settled earlier, affirming the rights of chiropractors. They were the Illinois Medical Society, the American Hospital Association, the Chicago Medical Society, the American Osteopathic Association and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.