The position of the AMA is clear that participation of physicians in executions in any way is unethical, and this stance has been endorsed by state medical societies, boards of medical examiners, and all medical organizations that have taken a position on the subject.
What is lamentable is the absence of disciplinary sanctions against licensees. As Gawande points out, physicians who violate this ethical precept almost always hide their identity, and states help them do so. I suspect that many of the 17 states that require physician participation actually honor that requirement in the breach, since it is getting harder to find willing physicians. For a 2001 execution in New Mexico — the only execution carried out in the state during the past 45 years — an execution team was imported from Texas, and the names, titles, and qualifications of its members were kept secret. When law and ethics collide, the law should be changed.
Steven S. Spencer, M.D.
2154 Calle de Sebastian
Santa Fe, NM 87505