ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Should doctors be involved in the state-ordered administration of capital punishment? In the September issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, three anesthesiologists and a medical ethicist take an in-depth look at this question in a commentary and two editorials.
None of these articles debate whether capital punishment is justifiable. Instead, the authors explore the current position of the American Medical Association (AMA), which prohibits physician participation in legally authorized executions. Here are a few highlights of the arguments presented in these articles.
In a commentary column, David Waisel, M.D., an anesthesiologist practicing at Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, asserts that it is time to reassess the AMA's position on this issue and allow doctors to participate in state-mandated executions to help provide the condemned a more humane path to death. Dr. Waisel cites numerous details about the technical problems associated with lethal injection, the form of capital punishment most commonly used in the United States today. Dr. Waisel reasons that doctors, particularly anesthesiologists, possess the skills to administer the medications used in lethal injections in a manner that prevents undue suffering.
"If state administration of capital punishment is legal and ongoing, humane methods of execution should be sought and applied. It is honorable for physicians to minimize the harm to these condemned individuals and organized medicine has an obligation to permit physician participation in legal execution," he writes.
Two editorials that follow Dr. Waisel's commentary arrive at the opposite conclusion. In one editorial, William Lanier, M.D., editor in chief, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, and Keith Berge, M.D., who are anesthesiologists at Mayo Clinic applaud Dr. Waisel for "bringing forward this emotional issue so that it can be pondered and discussed by a broad audience." But the auth
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