ROCHESTER, Minn. -- In a commentary and two editorials published in the September 2007 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, three anesthesiologists and a medical ethicist discussed whether doctors should participate in capital punishment executions. Since that issue was published, discussions about physician involvement in capital punishment have made their way into the state and federal court systems. And the North Carolina Medical Board has published a statement threatening to discipline physicians who actively participate in executions.
On Jan. 7, 2008, the U. S. Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments as to whether execution by lethal injection, as currently conducted, constitutes a form of cruel and unusual punishment. These new developments, as well as the earlier Proceedings articles, prompted a number of readers to write Proceedings editors and offer additional perspectives on this provocative topic. This lively discussion among physicians, ethicists and others appears in the January 2008 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings and is highlighted below.
Lee Black and Mark Levine, M.D., from the American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, author a commentary entitled Ethical Prohibition Against Physician Participation in Capital Punishment. This article asserts that physicians must not participate in executions, as this action is contrary to the core concept of ethics of the medical profession.
Although it is easy to view the provision of comfort, appropriate in some venues, as a duty of physicians, it is simply not ethical to participate in an action that has as its sole purpose the death of an individual, says Black and Dr. Levine.
Participation in prisoner executions might cause patients to have difficulty believing that their physicians are always acting in their best interests, explain Black and Dr. Levine. And merely possessing a special set of skills that would allow physicians to ensure
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