Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Physician participation in lethal injection executions should not be banned, argue ethicists

Date:
June 9, 2011
Source:
The Hastings Center
Summary:
Should physicians assist in a lethal injection execution -- or lose professional certification if they do? The American Board of Anesthesiology will revoke certification of anesthesiologists who participate in capital punishment. A new article concludes that decertification of physicians participating in lethal injections goes too far -- though individual physicians and private medical groups like the AMA are entitled to oppose the practice and may censure or dismiss members who violate it.

Should physicians be banned from assisting in a lethal injection execution, or lose professional certification for doing so? A recent ruling by the American Board of Anesthesiology will revoke certification of anesthesiologists who participate in capital punishment, and other medical boards may act similarly. An article in the Hastings Center Report concludes that decertification of physicians participating in lethal injections by a professional certifying organization goes too far -- though individual physicians and private medical groups like the AMA are entitled to oppose the practice and may censure or dismiss members who violate it.

Physician participation in execution by lethal injection has always been controversial. All 34 death-penalty states use lethal injections for executions -- and 33 of these allow or require physicians to participate. Kentucky is the only state that forbids physicians from participating in lethal injection executions. In 2008, when the Supreme Court upheld, in Baze v Rees, Kentucky's execution process as constitutional, the path seemed clear for lethal injections to proceed without physician involvement. But this didn't happen. As Lawrence Nelson and Brandon Ashby report in their article, "the protocols for almost all states still leave a place for physicians, apparently on grounds that physicians have the special ability to help the prisoner die swiftly and quietly, making the execution more humane for the prisoner, more efficient overall, and (to be frank) less disturbing for everyone who witnesses or has a hand in it."

The authors review the arguments against physician participation, particularly that it is inconsistent with the goals of medicine to help and not harm people -- and that the record of botched executions constitutes one of the strongest arguments in favor of participation. "Acknowledging the ability of physicians to reduce needless risk to the condemned," they conclude, "we believe the most that can be fairly said is that physician participation neither fully advances the ethical ideals of medicine nor is strictly anathema to them."

Lawrence Nelson is an associate professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University and a faculty scholar in the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Brandon Ashby is a graduate student with the faculty of philosophy at Oxford University, Lady Margaret Hall.

In their report, the authors find that arguments for and against physician participation in executions often get conflated with arguments about the broader question of the ethics of capital punishment. While they acknowledge that "reasonable people of good faith may disagree on the morality and efficacy of capital punishment," the fact is that lethal injection executions continue to occur-- with little prospect of ending soon. Forty such executions took place in the United States in 2010 and eight during the first two months of 2011. Over 20 are scheduled for the remainder of 2011.

The report examines the role that the state expects the physician to play. A newly opened facility in California, for instance, cost over $800,000 and is designed solely for performing executions efficiently, humanely, and in accordance with constitutional requirements. Yet the roles specified for the physicians in the California regulations involve activities expressly barred by the American Medical Association's Code of Ethics.

"As far as we can determine," Nelson and Ashby write, "no physician has lost his or her ability to practice medicine or been dismissed from a professional medical organization as a result of participation in executions." But this may change. In February 2010, the American Board of Anesthesiology ruled that no anesthesiologists may "participate in capital punishment if they wish to be certified by the ABA." And other specialty boards may follow suit.

Such new sanctions go beyond losing membership in a medical society. "Loss of board certification directly affects a physician's ability to practice medicine and attract patients, given that many institutions and patients will not enter into a relationship with a physician lacking this credential of professional competence and accomplishment. . . The ABA's action creates a significant conflict between the important interest of professional certifying boards in enforcing ethical standards and the commitment of the state to the effective, humane, and just administration of the criminal law," the article states.

Will states be able to get physicians into the death chamber if by doing so they lose their practice? The authors cite the states of Washington and Oregon as offering one possible solution. As part of the Death with Dignity laws authorizing physician-assisted suicide, these states have included provisions explicitly forbidding organized medicine from punishing participating physicians.

Nelson and Ashby support the need for medical associations to establish professional guidelines, but they believe that depriving a physician of his or her livelihood is too onerous a penalty. There are other ways for professional associations to achieve their goals: "If a profession's ethical standards ought to emerge out of a dialogue between the profession and the larger community it serves, then organized medicine, individual physicians, and the people in the thirty-four state that allow or require physician participation in executions out to engage in public debate aimed at reaching a practical and principled resolution of this chronic conflict."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The Hastings Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lawrence Nelson and Brandon Ashby. Rethinking the Ethics of Physician Participation in Lethal Injection Execution. Hastings Center Report, 41, no. 3 (2011): 28-37 [link]

Cite This Page:

The Hastings Center. "Physician participation in lethal injection executions should not be banned, argue ethicists." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110609123346.htm>.
The Hastings Center. (2011, June 9). Physician participation in lethal injection executions should not be banned, argue ethicists. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110609123346.htm
The Hastings Center. "Physician participation in lethal injection executions should not be banned, argue ethicists." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110609123346.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Science & Society News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways

Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways

AP (July 30, 2014) British officials said on Wednesday that driverless cars will be tested on roads in as many as three cities in a trial program set to begin in January. Officials said the tests will last up to three years. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Health Insurers' Profits Slide

Health Insurers' Profits Slide

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 30, 2014) Obamacare-related costs were said to be behind the profit plunge at Wellpoint and Humana, but Wellpoint sees the new exchanges boosting its earnings for the full year. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
China's Drone King Says the Revolution Depends on Regulators

China's Drone King Says the Revolution Depends on Regulators

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 30, 2014) Comparing his current crop of drones to early personal computers, DJI founder Frank Wang says the industry is poised for a growth surge - assuming regulators in more markets clear it for takeoff. Jon Gordon reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
London Mayor Outlines 50-Year Vision Ahead of Population Rise

London Mayor Outlines 50-Year Vision Ahead of Population Rise

AFP (July 30, 2014) London Mayor Boris Johnson outlined his infrastructure plan for the British capital over the next 50 years on Wednesday, with a focus on how to cope with a population expected to reach 11 million. Duration: 00:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins