Doctors should play no part in executions

October 31, 2002

The number of executions in the United States has soared over the past two decades as the acceptability of lethal injection has increased. In this week's BMJ Jonathan Groner describes parallels between America's use of lethal injection and Nazi Germany's "euthanasia" programme, and argues that doctors should not participate in executions under any circumstances.

Lethal injection is now the standard method used to perform capital punishment in the United States and, unlike other methods of execution, doctors often have to be involved. Although medical organisations in the United States forbid participation in executions, most doctors are unaware of these guidelines and are willing to participate, writes the author.

Doctors' involvement in lethal injection (or any execution) creates a profound conflict of roles that is morally unacceptable, he says. When doctors enter the death chamber, they harm not only their relationship with their own patients, but the relationships with all doctors with their patients.

He believes that, even without doctors' participation, lethal injection simulates a medical procedure and thus has a deeply corrupting influence on medicine as a whole. The Nazis used the imagery of medicine to justify killing. Capital punishment in the United States now depends solely on the same medical charade, he writes.

Without the respectability that lethal injection provides, capital punishment in the United States would probably cease, he concludes.


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