Physicians and Their Role in Executions
Read my thoughts on this important editorial here.The New England Journal of Medicine has published a provocative editorial on capital punishment and the physician's role in carrying it out. In truth, the position taken, that no physician should agree to facilitate an execution is old and has been endorsed by many medical societies. However, in over 1,000 words, the closest thing to an argument in support of this are these words: "A profession dedicated to healing the sick has no place in the process of execution."
Yet even this statement is offered without proof or justification and is merely a recapitulation of the authors' opinion. Cannot the exact opposite position also be offered, that in a nation that condones the death penalty through its laws and courts (and incidentally in public opinion), medical science should be brought to bear to insure that all executions are administered with compassion and decency?
If that is the case, who better to supervise an execution than a physician; preferably one expert in pain management, anesthesiology, or critical care medicine? After all, the article cites several instances of botched executions that almost certainly increased the pain and suffering of the criminal.
The position that this editorial takes, that the medical community's canon of ethics forbids it from participating in executions may well be heartfelt. Yet consider revealing words such as these:
Injected drugs, now used in all but 1 of the 37 states in which capital punishment is legal, have been part of the increasing medicalization of executions and the enlistment of medical personnel to lend them apparent moral legitimacy" (my emphasis).I can't help but think that something else is going on here. Could it be that these authors are simply opposed to capital punishment and that by promoting a policy forbidding physicians from facilitating it, they in effect render it an impossibility?
If that is truly their agenda then that should have been their thesis and they should be forthright about it. Pardon me for finding it intellectually dishonest however, to hide behind some vague, poorly established interpretation of the Hippocratic Oath (which they also cited). The Oath was never understood to forbid the palliating of pain and suffering when death was imminent due to disease. Why should it be any different here?
By the way, unless you know me well, don't presume to know where I stand on the death penalty. This post is more about being upfront than about capital punishment.