A year after he articulated the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG)’s commitment to fighting racism and disparities in healthcare, outgoing President Anthony R. Gregg, M.D., MBA, FACMG has resigned after uttering what he has since admitted were ill-chosen, racially insensitive words during the group’s annual meeting.
Gregg ignited anger at the 2021 ACMG Annual Clinical Genetics Meeting on Friday after making unscripted remarks during the discussion period of a scientific session: “The idea is that black people and brown people and yellow people should all be able to see the benefits of next-generation sequencing as it has evolved.”
“I misspoke,” Gregg acknowledged in his letter of resignation from the office of Immediate Past President of ACMG, and its board of directors. The ACMG included excerpts from Gregg’s resignation letter in a two-page letter sent Monday to ACMG members. “My words were not intended to insult any person or harm the reputation of the College. The poor choice of words does not reflect my views towards people of diverse backgrounds and those from any stage or walk of life.
“Let me say to the Board and to College members, I am sorry for the choice of words, left to speak again, those words would not be used,” Gregg continued. “I am sorry.”
Gregg is a medical doctor specializing in maternal fetal medicine and clinical genetics at PRISMA Health, South Carolina’s largest not-for-profit health organization, and the University of South Carolina. He joined PRISMA Health and the University last year from Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, where he was Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Chief of Maternal Fetal Medicine.
Earlier, Gregg held positions at the University of Florida College of Medicine, where he was Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine and the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Fellowship Program from 2011–2017, as well as the Director of Obstetrics at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL.
Less than a year ago, in a commentary published June 30 in Nature-owned Genetics in Medicine, Gregg declared: “The ACMG vehemently opposes racism and supports all efforts to more fully understand and address the factors that lead not only to disparities in justice, but also those that lead to disparities in health-care delivery and access.”
At the annual meeting last week, Gregg’s reference to diverse populations by colors “was a serious mistake that caused pain and distress for many, including ACMG leadership,” the College declared in its letter, co-signed by ACMG’s new President Marc S. Williams, M.D., and the group’s CEO, Maximilian Muenke, MD. Gregg, Williams, and Muenke are all Fellows of ACMG.
“These remarks were not made on behalf of ACMG nor was Dr. Gregg speaking in his official capacity as President of the ACMG during that session. These remarks do not represent the values of the College,” Williams and Muenke insisted.
Call for Accountability
Gregg’s remarks touched off a verbal firestorm of criticism from attendees of the annual meeting and others commenters on Twitter.
“As if we needed any other reason to never support ACMG again,” tweeted Rachel Mills, MS, a certified genetic counselor in Durham, NC, who said she was a former member of the College.
She later wrote: “It’s obvious based on today’s comments by Past President Anthony Gregg that whatever they’re doing (if anything) to support anti-racism isn’t working. I’m calling for accountability and an action plan. Don’t try to sweep this under the rug @TheACMG.”
Added Omar Rahman, M.D., director of genetic medicine at University of Nebraska Medical Center Munroe-Meyer Institute in Omaha: “That is insane. What an embarrassment.”
Rahman and Eric Rush, M.D., assistant professor and clinical geneticist at The University of Kansas Medical Center, responded to Gregg’s remarks by writing and posting on Twitter: “We, as part of the genetics community were truly shocked to hear what the outgoing president of our premier professional society said.
“His words do NOT represent our community, our values, our ideals, or our beliefs, and certainly not the scientific knowledge our field contributes in moving our society forward in the journey towards a better world. We do not in any way condone such behavior from him, nor would we from any other colleagues in our community,” Rahman and Rush wrote in “A Joint Letter from the Genetics Community In Support of a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive World.”
Rush tweeted Monday that Gregg’s resignation was “A step in the right direction for ACMG!”
Carol Ko, a genetic counselor from California specializing in cancer and cardiology tweeted “Thank you @TheACMG for your commitment to meaningful action. I and your other minority colleagues will be watching closely to see how the College continues to uphold the values championed by your DEI statement.”