Friday, 2 February 2007

Aiding Executions Betrays Medical Values, Lancet Says (Update1)

Aiding Executions Betrays Medical Values, Lancet Says (Update1)

By Eva von Schaper

Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Doctors who aid in executions by injecting convicts with deadly drugs betray the core values of medicine, an editorial in The Lancet medical journal said.

``Lethal injection is a perversion of healing,'' Leonidas Koniaris and fellow researchers of the University of Miami wrote in the editorial.

A series of botched executions in California recently led U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel to conclude that the state's implementation of lethal injection is broken and demanded that the government review the process. Other states, including Florida, are also reviewing their execution protocols. These reviews imply that medical and scientific experts should evaluate and perfect executions, the article said.

Appropriating doctors' knowledge ``to kill is an appalling betrayal of the core values of medical research,'' the authors said.

Amnesty International says 128 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, while 22 countries are known to have executed prisoners in 2005. Of those executions, 94 percent occurred in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eva von Schaper in Munich at .

Last Updated: February 2, 2007 09:38 EST

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


 Medical groups cite that there is an ethical conflict for participation in the lethal injection process, because medical professionals have a requirement to do no harm.
Those ethical codes pertain to their medical profession, only. For example, both doctors and nurses can be police and soldiers and can kill, when deemed appropriate,  within those lines of duty and without violating the ethical codes of their medical profession. Medical professionals would, similarly, not violate their codes of ethics, when acting as technical experts, for executions, in a criminal justice procedure.
Physicians are often part of double or triple blind studies where there is hope that the tested drugs may, someday, prove beneficial. The physicians and other researchers know that many patients, taking placebos or less effective drugs, will suffer more additional harm or death because they are not taking the subject drug or that the subject drug will actually harm or kill more patients than the placebo of other drugs used in the study.
They knowing harm individual patients, in direct contradiction to their "do no harm" oath.
For the greater good, they sacrifice innocent, willing and brave patients.
Note, that the willing is irrelevant, from an ethical standpoint. "Do no harm" is "do no harm". Physicians knowingly make exceptions to their do no harm requirement, every day, within their profession, where that code applies.
The do no harm has no ethical effect in a non medical context, because this ethical requirement is for medical treatments, only. Execution is not a medical treatment, but a criminal justice sanction. The basis for medical treatment is to improve the plight of the patient, for which the medical profession provides exceptions. The basis for execution is to carry out a criminal justice sentence where death is the sanction.
Justice, deterrence, retribution, just punishments, upholding the social contract, saving innocent life, etc.,  are all recognized as aspects of the death penalty, all dealing with the greater good.
Are murderers on death row willing participants? They willingly committed the crime and , therefore, willingly exposed themselves to the social contract of that jurisdiction.

Lethal injection is not a medical procedure. It is a criminal justice sanction authorized by law. Therefore, there should be no ethical conflict with medical codes of conduct.
40,000 to 100,000 innocents die, every year, in the US because of medical misadventure, or improper medical treatment. (1)
In every state, there are hundreds or thousands of people trained for IV application of drugs or the taking of blood.  Sadly, even hard core drug addicts are proficient in IV application.
There may be only 1 or 2 times where personnel error may have led to problems in the lethal injection process.  That is out of nearly 900 lethal injections in the US.
It appears that some 500-1000 innocent patients die, every year, in the US, due to some type of medical misadventure, with anesthesia. (1)

I am unaware of evidence that shows criminal justice professionals are more likely to commit some error in the lethal injection process, than are medical professionals in IV application. Furthermore, even with errors in lethal injection, those cases resulted in the death of the inmate - the intended outcome for the guilty murderer. In the errors of medical professionals, we are speaking of death or other harm to innocent patients - the opposite of the intended outcome.

1)  see   "Deaths from Medical Misadventure"at
                  "Health Grades Quality Study: Patient Safety in American Hospitals, July , 2004" at

originally written May, 2005. Updated as merited.
copyright 2005-2007
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa(at), 713-622-5491
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
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