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Institute for Public Accuracy

FEBRUARY 21, 2006
3:36 PM

CONTACT: Institute for Public Accuracy
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Execution and Medical Ethics: "Do No Harm"

WASHINGTON - February 21 - AP reports that the execution of Michael Angelo Morales, scheduled for 12:01 a.m. Tuesday in California, was delayed "after two anesthesiologists refused to participate because of ethical concerns about their involvement."

A doctor in private practice in California and a correctional medical consultant, Weinstein said today: "I was on the American Public Health Association Task Force for Correctional Standards, which prohibits doctors as well as other licensed medical professionals, including nurses, from participating in executions.

"The state doesn't like the barbiturates because they take a long time; it wants a quick death with potassium which renders the heart unable to contract and with a muscle relaxer so there are no seizures. So it wants anesthesiologists, but any participation by medical professionals violates the ethics of the healing arts. Practitioners have taken an oath to heal and do no harm; participating in executions obviously violates that oath."

Institute professor at the Wright Institute in California, Kupers said today: "The American Medical Association and California Medical Association both have policies prohibiting doctors from participating in executions. We're the only Western country that continues to execute people. This is a piece of our policies on torture; we're defying international standards on what constitutes torture and on what is cruel and unusual punishment. Medical professionals should not participate in either executions or torture." Kupers is author of the book Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars.

Executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, Stevenson said today: "Government officials don't want the American public to view the death penalty as a lethal, destructive, violent act that isn't really necessary. Therefore we sanitize and obscure the act of killing a person, who is no longer a threat to anyone, with protocols and procedures that are aimed at comforting the public. The problem is that intentionally killing another human being is always painful and shocking. As medical doctors, correctional staff and anyone who gets close to capital punishment quickly discover, there is no comfortable way to kill a human being who doesn't have to die."
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