Last updated on: 9/18/2008 9:42:00 AM PST
Should physicians participate in executions?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Mark Bratton, Anglican and Senior Chaplain at the University of Warwick, England, and David Metcalfe, medical student at the same university, in a July, 2007 Student British Medical Journal essay titled "Doctors and the Death Penalty," in reference to the Hippocratic Oath, wrote:
"The first principle of the Hippocratic tradition is that doctors should do no harm. Although at first sight this principle seems irreconcilable with the death penalty, doctors have historically justified their conduct in terms of ensuring a painless and humane death for the prisoner."
July 2007 - David Metcalfe
Mark Bratton, PhD
Daniel N. Lerman, JD, PhD, in an Aug. 2007 Georgetown Law Journal article titled "Second Opinion: Inconsistent Deference to Medical Ethics in Death Penalty Jurisprudence," wrote:
"Of the thirty-seven death penalty states using lethal injection, seventeen require the presence of a physician, and eighteen allow physician assistance. Only two states, Kentucky and Illinois, forbid physician participation or presence in executions."
Aug. 2007 - Daniel N. Lerman, JD, PhD
Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, in a Mar. 23, 2006 New England Journal of Medicine article titled "When Law and Ethics Collide — Why Physicians Participate in Executions," wrote:
"States have affirmed that physicians and nurses — including those who are prison employees — have a right to refuse to participate in any way in executions. Yet they have found physicians and nurses who are willing to participate. Who are these people? And why do they do it?
Mar. 23, 2006 - Atul Gawande, MD, MPH
Bruce E. Ellerin, MD, JD, Doctor of Oncology Radiation at Sierra Providence Health Network in El Paso, TX, in a July 6, 2006 response letter to the New England Journal of Medicine regarding an article titled "When Law and Ethics Collide — Why Physicians Participate in Executions," by Atul Gawande, MD, offered the following:
"Accepting capital punishment in principle means accepting it in practice, whether by the hand of a physician or anyone else. If one approves of capital punishment in principle (as I do), then one must accept its practical consequences. If one finds the practice too brutal, one must either reject it in principle or seek to mitigate its brutality. If one chooses the latter option, then the participation of physicians seems more humane than delegating the deed to prison wardens, for by condoning the participation of untrained people who could inflict needless suffering that we physicians might have prevented, we are just as responsible as if we had inflicted the suffering ourselves.
July 6, 2006 - Bruce E. Ellerin, MD, JD
During Taylor v. Crawford case litigation, a Jan. 31, 2006 Court Order issued by the US Western District Court of Missouri concluded:
"Plaintiff argues that the defendants will violate his right to due process of law by executing him by using a physician to carry out the essential steps in the execution in violation of the physician’s medical ethics.
Jan. 31, 2006 - Taylor v. Crawford - Court Order (28KB)
Taylor v. Crawford (16KB)
Robert Truog, MD, Professor at Harvard Medical School, in a Jan. 18, 2008 New England Journal of Medicine interview titled "Perspective Roundtable: Physicians and Execution," stated:
"If I think of the kind of a hypothetical where you have an inmate who is about to be executed and knows that this execution may involve excruciating suffering, that inmate requests the involvement of a physician, because he knows that the physician can prevent that suffering from occurring, and if there is a physician who is willing to do that, and we know from surveys that many are, I honestly can’t think of any principle of medical ethics that would say that that is an unethical thing for the physician to do."
Jan. 18, 2008 - Robert Truog, MD
John Hood, President of the John Locke Foundation and Publisher of CarolinaJournal.com, in a Sep. 26, 2007 Lincoln Tribune.com article titled "Judge Is Right on Execution Ethics," wrote:
"Remember, no doctor is compelled to be present at an execution. Those who choose to do so believe that it is ethical... To punish them, it must be proved that medical ethics and presence at an execution are impossible to reconcile. But that’s clearly not true...
Sep. 26, 2007 - John Hood
David Waisel, MD, Associate Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, in a Sep. 2007 Mayo Clinic Proceedings article titled "Physician Participation in Capital Punishment," wrote:
"I argue that poorly done executions needlessly hurt the condemned and that, in the case of lethal injections, the problems center not on the specific drugs chosen but on establishing and maintaining intravenous access and assessing for anesthetic depth.
Sep. 2007 - David Waisel, MD
The American Medical Association (AMA), in a July 17, 2006 press release titled "AMA: Physician Participation in Lethal Injection Violates Medical Ethics," stated:
"The American Medical Association is troubled by continuous refusal of many state courts and legislatures to acknowledge the ethical obligations of physicians, which strictly prohibit physician involvement in a legally authorized execution.
July 17, 2006 - American Medical Association (AMA)
The Society of Correctional Physicians (SCP), in a "President's Message," in the Winter 2008 issue of the Journal of Correctional Health Care, offered the following:
"The Society of Correctional Physicians hopes that the Court recognizes that these ethical principles (not be involved in any aspect of execution of the death penalty) are vitally important, and that correctional physicians should not be made a part of the legal apparatus for conducting an execution.
Winter 2008 - Society of Correctional Physicians (SCP)
The California Medical Association (CMA), in a Feb. 16, 2006 press release titled "California Medical Assn. Objects to Physician Participation in Executions," stated:
"The CMA has for decades sought to end physician participation in capital punishment, including seeking legislation banning such actions by physicians and other health care professionals.
Feb. 16, 2006 - California Medical Association (CMA)
The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), in an Oct. 18, 2006 statement titled "Statement on Physician Nonparticipation in Legally Authorized Executions," offered the following:
"1) Execution by lethal injection has resulted in the incorrect association of capital punishment with the practice of medicine, particularly anesthesiology.
Oct. 18, 2006 - American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA)
Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, in a Sep. 2007 Mayo Clinic Proceedings article titled "Should Physicians Participate in Capital Punishment?," wrote:
"An argument for technical expertise does not justify medicine’s acceptance of physician involvement in executions [...] Physicians who participate... in executions in states that permit capital punishment for morally bankrupt reasons, even from motives of mercy toward the condemned... are complicit in the unethical killing of sometimes helpless, hapless, and vulnerable persons."
Sep. 2007 - Arthur L. Caplan, PhD