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The American Medical Association has taken up the question of whether doctors and patients should be routinely tested for AIDS, opening a debate in which one physician said the credibility of medicine is at stake.

The proposal was debated Monday at a meeting of the AMA's health committee. It is to be voted on this week by the 438 delegates who set policy for the 300,000-member AMA, the nation's largest organization of doctors.After hearing Vice President Dan Quayle tell reporters he thinks states should require doctors to be tested, AMA President C. John Tupper said Monday the idea "looks very persuasive" on the surface but would not work.

"It would be extremely expensive and give a false sense of security," he said.

Doctors have questioned how a system could be set up to test all physicians. They also have questioned how often they would have to be tested, since signs of the virus may not show up until months after infection.

AIDS tests now require written consent of the patient. Current AMA policy calls on doctors who think they are at risk to be tested. The AMA also recommends that infected doctors inform their patients and stop performing surgery.

Some doctors want to go further.

"I think the credibility of medicine is being questioned by the American public," said George Bohigian, a St. Louis ophthalmologist who wrote a resolution proposing that hospital patients and doctors undergo regular AIDS tests.

"If we're going to test patients, we should also test ourselves," he said.

While doctors discussed the proposal, which was introduced by the Missouri delegation, members of an AIDS activist group protested outside.

Activists fear regular testing would lead to unauthorized disclosure and discrimination.