Friday, February 15, 2008


Physicians and Execution

The New England Journal of Medicine had an editorial recently on the role of physicians in executions spurred by the US Supreme Court case, Baze v. Rees. READ IT HERE. Baze v. Rees has called into question the current lethal injection protocol. The editorial explains the risk of the current lethal injection protocols in a clear and concise manner. The editorial takes the position that "physicians and other health care providers should not be involved in capital punishment. A profession dedicated to healing the sick has no place in the process of execution."

I commend the journal for taking a stance in an issue that oftentimes is easier to ignore. Folks often forget that the death penalty doesn't only impact the executed, family of the murder victim, and family of the executed, it also impacts those involved with the process. Doctors felt a need to speak up and they have in one of the most popular and widely read journals out there. Below are two very important paragraphs from the editorial.

"We are concerned that, regardless of its decision in Baze v. Rees, the Court may include language in its opinion that will turn again to the medical profession to legitimize a form of lethal injection that, meeting an appropriate constitutional standard, will not be considered "cruel and unusual punishment." On the surface, lethal injection is a deceptively simple procedure, but its practical application has been fraught with numerous technical difficulties. Without the involvement of physicians and other medical professionals with special training in the use of anesthetic drugs and related agents, it is unlikely that lethal injection will ever meet a constitutional standard of decency. But do we as a society want the nation's physicians to do this? We believe not."

"Physicians and other health care providers should not be involved in capital punishment, even in an advisory capacity. A profession dedicated to healing the sick has no place in the process of execution. On January 7 in oral arguments in Baze v. Rees, the justices asked many important and thoughtful questions about a potential role for physicians and other health care professionals in executions. In their fuller examination of Baze v. Rees, the justices should not presume that the medical profession will be available to assist in the taking of human lives. We believe that, like the anesthesiologists in the Morales case, all responsible members of the medical profession, when asked to assist in a state-ordered execution, will remember the Hippocratic Oath and refuse to participate. The future of capital punishment in the United States will be up to the justices, but the involvement of physicians in executions will be up to the medical profession."

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Comments :
Nice that a bunch of self-righteous docs decided to weigh in on the constitutionality of lethal injection sans medical professionals. In any event, as we saw in the oral argument in Baze, Kentucky has qualified people performing the procedure.

We'll see what happens, but under current caselaw, it's difficult to see how a state can act in a "wanton" manner when it actively tries to avoid pain. Now, there may be five votes on the Supreme Court to change the standard. We'll just have to see.

Methinks, and this is just a prediction, that this is your last best chance to get lethal injection. It was pretty pathetic that the murderers didn't make a better case of it at trial (remember, the Supreme Court talked about things not being in the record).
Self-righteous is hardly the definer I would place on these individuals. I'd say that they are very interested in avoiding the mess that is the death penalty. The medical requirements are so ambiguous that I would presume that it scares them to enter that foray when so much of their profession is based on being precise.

I think there is still plenty of real estate available in regards to lethal injection. Also, "your last best chance to get lethal injection." I believe folks are trying to uphold the 8th amendment, that's what this is about. It just so happens that the current protocols place a ridiculous amount of risk on violating that amendment.
Oh I would. These guys don't like capital punishment, so they'll just say that only a medical person can get a needle in a vein. Guess what, you can train an 18 year old medic to do this procedure.

A ridiculous amount of risk---if that were truly the case, then Justice Stevens would not have talked about the state winning its case at oral argument. The issue is whether the infinitesimal risk in this procedure has to be reduced to effectively zero risk.
As it must be. Zero!
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