CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Medical Ethics and Capital Punishment

This story discusses the medical profession's role in executions.  Doctors have been involved in capital punishment all the way back to when Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin invented the guillotine as a humane method of death.  Later in history's progression, doctors helped invent the electric chair for the same reason. But the American Medical Association and many other medical groups have long opposed doctors having any role in executions, including monitoring a prisoner’s vital signs or giving technical advice. "They should not even certify death," because if they find the patient has not died it would lead to more drugs or electrocution to kill the patient, said Dr. Steven Miles a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota.

It’s a voluntary rule and no doctors have been reprimanded or defrocked for taking part in executions, and few doctors do. In fact, most states have devised strategies to avoid involving doctors. Illinois, for instance, adopted a law saying that assisting death was not practicing medicine, thus freeing the state to hire non-physicians to do the job.  Many states, including Texas, use "execution specialists" who are trained in how to start intravenous lines to administer lethal injections. More from . . [Mark Godsey]

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