Offensive editorial leads to resignation of the president-elect of the American College of Surgeons

The president-elect of the American College of Surgeons had to resign from his position Sunday after weeks of controversy surrounding a Valentine’s Day editorial he wrote speaking of the mood-enhancing effects of semen on women during unprotected sex.

The surgeon, Dr. Lazar Greenfield said his many apologies had been ignored. “Therefore, rather than have this remain a disruptive issue, I resigned as president-elect,” he said. “I only hope that those who choose to judge me will read the article in the spirit in which it was intended.” Dr. Greenfield, 78, was the editor in chief of Surgery News when the editorial was published but resigned that position in the wake of the controversy. He is an emeritus professor of surgery at the University of Michigan School of Medicine.

In the editorial he cited research that found that female college students who had had unprotected sex were less depressed than those whose partners used condoms. It speculated that compounds in semen have antidepressant effects. “So there’s a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates,” it concluded.

In 2002, psychologists at the State University of New York at Albany asked 293 college females to answer questions about frequency of sexual intercourse and types of contraceptives used, as well as questions from the Beck Depression Inventory, a standard mood-assessing questionnaire (a score over 17 is considered depressed). The team found women whose partners never use condoms scored 8 on average, those who used them sometimes scored 10.5, and those who weren’t having sex scored 13.5, they published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

The abstract of the article said, “Not only were females who were having sex without condoms less depressed, but depressive symptoms and suicide attempts among females who used condoms were proportional to the consistency of condom use.”

The editorial outraged many women in the field. Dr. Barbara Bass, chairwoman of the department of surgery at Methodist Hospital in Houston and a former regent of the surgery group, the largest professional association for surgeons, said that she was glad Dr. Greenfield had resigned, despite his long history of supporting women in the profession. “Some things you can’t recover from if you’re in a leadership role,” Dr. Bass said. She said the resignation demonstrated that the surgery association’s leadership “does understand the continued challenges women face as they join and mature in the surgical profession.”

Dr. Colleen Brophy, a professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University, who resigned from the surgery association during the controversy and said Sunday that she had no intention of reversing herself now that Dr. Greenfield has resigned. “The editorial was just a symptom of a much larger problem,” Dr. Brophy said. “The way the college is set up right now is for the sake of the leadership instead of patients.”

Dr. David B. Hoyt, executive director of the American College of Surgery, said on Sunday that the college would have an official statement regarding Dr. Greenfield on Monday. On Friday, the college stated that it “deeply regrets the offense taken to Dr. Greenfield’s editorial about Valentine’s Day.”

Dr. Marie L. Crandall, an associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University, said women were advancing slowly in the field of surgery. “It’s better than it was 20 or even 10 years ago,” she said, adding, “I think we’re making progress.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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