Ousted Surgeon Pushes Back Against Critics

April 20, 2011

April 20, 2011 — Lazar Greenfield, MD, who resigned Sunday as president-elect of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) after praising semen as a mood-booster for women in an editorial, said that he faced the prospects of protestors at medical meetings if he stayed in office.

Dr. Greenfield's claim appeared in a statement that he emailed today to press outlets, a statement that defends the controversial editorial against charges of being sexist and demeaning to women. He also suggests that his female critics are "vindictive."

"The reports surrounding my resignation...lead readers to conclude that I represent an old-guard generation that represses women in surgery," he wrote. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

He noted that he had a long record of recruiting and promoting women in his field. From 1987 to 2002, Dr. Greenfield chaired the surgery department at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he is now an emeritus professor.

Dr. Greenfield's statement reiterates many of the points that the 76-year-old surgeon, textbook author, and inventor of the Greenfield vena cava filter, made Monday in an interview with Medscape Medical News.

'Not Something Demeaning'

The editorial in question, ostensibly celebrating Valentine's Day, appeared in the February issue of Surgery News, an ACS newsletter for which Dr. Greenfield served as editor-in-chief. He announced his resignation from that position in the April issue.

Dr. Lazar Greenfield

Saying that he could no longer remain silent to protect the ACS, Dr. Green stated in today's email that he had written a "light-hearted" opinion piece "for a monthly throwaway newspaper, not a scientific journal." At the same time, he said that the biochemical properties of semen have been documented in peer-reviewed journals, and "represent the remarkable way that Nature promotes bonding between men and women, not something demeaning."

The editorial was meant to amuse readers, but some took offense, leading him to apologize and step down as editor of Surgery News, Dr. Greenfield wrote. "That was not sufficient for some women who convinced the [ACS] leadership that I was unsuited for the Presidency."

"Facing threats of demonstrations by women at any medical meetings that I might attend, I resigned," he said.

'Ruthless and Vindictive'

The New York Times reported that Dr. Greenfield identified 2 groups — the Association of Women Surgeons and the ACS Women in Surgery Committee — as having pressed the ACS Board of Regents for his resignation. Leaders of the 2 groups either declined to speak with Medscape Medical News or did not respond to requests for interview.

A spokesperson for the ACS also declined today to answer questions about the circumstances of Dr. Greenfield's resignation or comment on his email to the press. The medical society had issued a press release Monday announcing Dr. Greenfield's resignation. In that release, the ACS said it wished to honor Dr. Greenfield for "his inestimable contributions to the College and the surgical community" but that it could not be "distracted by any issues that would diminish its focus on improving care of the surgical patient."

Patricia Numann, MD, the current first vice-president-elect of the ACS, was named the society's new president-elect.

In his earlier interview with Medscape Medical News, Dr. Greenfield said the ACS Board of Regents had asked him to step down. He initially resisted, and then relented in order that the editorial "should no longer be a divisive issue in the College."

In today's email to several media outlets, Dr. Greenfield repeated how he had offered to make the controversy over the editorial a professional learning experience by discussing forms of "hidden or unconscious discrimination" with female physicians.

"But that did not fit their agenda," he said. "There should have been a way to reach a less destructive outcome."

To make his point, Dr. Greenfield offered a hypothetical version of his story in which a female editor wrote something offensive to men.

"After they voiced their history of repression, she decided it would be best for the paper if she resigned as editor. But that wasn't enough, and other men's organizations demanded that she resign as the incoming elected president.

"The conclusion is obvious: Men are ruthless and vindictive."

'A Role Model for Supporting Women in Surgery'

The subject of sexism and surgeons is further explored by an article in the April issue of the Annals of Surgery titled "Is There Still a Glass Ceiling for Women in Academic Surgery?" The authors state that although more and more women have entered general surgery and surgical subspecialties, a glass ceiling continues to keep them underrepresented in academic leadership positions. They attribute the glass ceiling to the lack of effective mentors for female surgeons, traditional gender roles, and "sexism in the medical environment."

Sexism, the authors state, can range from "inappropriate sexual bantering to flirtation and sexual advances to pressuring women to participate in sexual relationships."

One of the authors, Diane Simeone, MD, is professionally linked to Dr. Greenfield — she is the Lazar J. Greenfield Professor of Surgery at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as well as division chief of gastrointestinal surgery. She joined the University of Michigan faculty midway during Dr. Greenfield's tenure as chair of the surgery department.

A story published by the New York Times last week quoted Dr. Simeone as saying that gender bias was never evident with Dr. Greenfield.

"I think it's important to know that [the editorial] is one event and to weigh it against a long career where he has always been completely above board and a role model for supporting women in surgery," she told the New York Times.

Dr. Simeone declined to grant an interview to Medscape Medical News but did confirm that the New York Times quoted her accurately.

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