ACEP Withdraws Keynote Invitation to Deepak Chopra

Marcia Frellick

September 09, 2020

Updated September 10, 2020 — The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) announced on Tuesday that it has removed alternative medicine advocate and New Age author Deepak Chopra, MD, as a keynote speaker from its annual meeting in October after a swift backlash from members.

ACEP issued this statement Tuesday on Twitter: "We heard you. Deepak Chopra's presentation has been removed from the #ACEP20 lineup."

https://twitter.com/ACEPNow/status/1303372673901305858

ACEP first announced the news about Chopra on September 4: "We are excited to announce Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, will be a special keynote speaker at ACEP20! Do not miss your chance to get his take on whole person wellbeing during these unprecedented times." That announcement on the ACEP website — and the tweet about it — have since been deleted.

As reactions came in on social media last Friday, ACEP tweeted, "We hear you. We certainly did not intend the announcement of a wellness presentation to generate so much controversy. We are currently re-exploring this aspect of our program."

Dr Deepak Chopra

Chopra told Medscape Medical News on Thursday he found out from the tweets that his talk had been canceled and said his only conversations about the cancellation had been with a booking agency and not with ACEP. He called the decision "not a scientific decision, but a political decision."

"ACEP is committed to a diversity of voices and messages in our programming," said ACEP spokesperson Maggie McGillick. "Deepak Chopra was scheduled to speak specifically to the topic of wellness at one of four general sessions."

The spokesperson described the "strong feelings" expressed by many members who were not in favor of Chopra's appearance. In order to support the "unity of the emergency medicine community," ACEP decided to remove Chopra from the lineup, she said.

Dan Buckland, MD, PhD, an ACEP member from North Carolina, told Medscape Medical News he believes the messaging from ACEP has been mixed.

Members first received word that Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will be a keynote speaker, Buckland said. Then they received the announcement about Chopra's keynote address.

"It could promote the message that the college considers them equivalent," he said.

Buckland said he suspected ACEP was trying to draw people to a virtual conference with high-profile speakers, but in Chopra's case, the move was misguided.

Chopra's latest book, Total Meditation: Practices in Living the Awakened Life, is set to be published later this month.

"ACEP seemed to be saying, 'We consider him an expert in wellness.' When Chopra defines wellness, it is far beyond the way emergency medicine defines wellness," Buckland said.

Communication with the membership about the selection of keynote speakers "has been somewhat lacking," he added.

"Simply Ridiculous"

"[Chopra] has preached Ayurveda (an alternative medicine system) and 'quantum healing' as cures for everything from aging, to cancer, to AIDS," said Rupinder Singh Sahsi, MD, an ACEP member in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. "He claims that evolution is not a genetic process but one guided by consciousness.

"It's simply ridiculous for someone who flies so arrogantly in the face of modern, evidence-based, scientific progress to end up as a keynote speaker at an annual scientific meeting of a legitimate medical organization," he said.

Sahsi tweeted to ACEP today after learning of the reversal, "Kudos for quickly admitting the error, and promptly making it right."

But one person suggested that the damage has already been done with the invitation.

Cathy Richards, a retired population health dietitian, tweeted that although inviting Chopra to speak would have given him the chance to use ACEP as a marketing tool, canceling now gives him the chance to say, " '[Doctors] are so afraid of my teachings they cancelled me'. So ACEP has created a no-good-outcomes scenario for themselves."

Chopra: "I Find It Amusing"

Chopra told Medscape Medical News that he's not offended by the withdrawal of the invitation or by the criticism.

"Thirty years ago, I would have been very upset and shocked but today, actually, I find it amusing," he said.

"I have spoken at Harvard Medical School, I do the yearly update in internal medicine for Beth Israel Hospital," Chopra noted. "I was actually amused that the American College of Emergency Physicians had not kept up with what's happening in the world."

Chopra spokesperson Aaron Marion noted that Chopra's fee for the ACEP presentation, $5000, is being returned.  

Chopra tweeted an apology to ACEP members on Thursday, saying, "Dear ACEP Members, I realize there was a lot of angst about my presentation at your convention. I'm sorry for creating so much turbulence," adding a link to the presentation he would have given, which he notes cites references from leading, peer-reviewed journals. 

His message to his critics: "Please look up the references and decide for yourself if this is science or not."

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News, and Nurse.com. She was also an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter @mfrellick.

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