New Voices - Medical Professionals
DOCTOR'S VIEW: "In the Execution Chamber, Medicine is Misplaced"
Dr. Philip B. Woodhall, M.D., who practiced emergency medicine in North Carolina for many years, recently wrote about the proposed role of doctors in carrying out lethal injections. He stated that medicine and executions do not mix. "[D]octors are given extraordinary rights and privileges," he wrote, and "these powers are dedicated to the preservation of human life, not to the service of death." Woodhall urged North Carolina's Department of Corrections to abandon efforts to include doctors in any aspect of executions. He further commented:
(North Carolina News & Observer, March 13, 2007).
American Medical Association, EMT Association Say Participation in Executions Violates Medical Ethics
Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) recently issued public statements reminding members of their ethical obligation not to participate in legally authorized executions. As courts and legislatures throughout the country continue to struggle with questions related to lethal injection procedures, AMA president William G. Plested III noted that AMA policy clearly prohibits medical professionals from participating in executions because it "erodes public confidence in the medical profession." The NAEMT issued a position paper stating that member participation in executions is forbidden because it "is inconsistent with the ethical precepts and goals of the EMS profession."
In his statement for the AMA, Plested noted:
The guidelines in the AMA Code of Medical Ethics address physician participation in executions involving lethal injection. The ethical opinion explicitly prohibits selecting injection sites for executions by lethal injection, starting intravenous lines, prescribing, administering, or supervising the use of lethal drugs, monitoring vital signs, on site or remotely, and declaring death.
As the voice of American medicine, the AMA urges all physicians to remain dedicated to our ethical obligations that prohibit involvement in capital punishment.
(AMA Press Release, "AMA: Physician Participation in Lethal Injection Violates Medical Ethics," July 17, 2006)
The NAEMT position statement stated:
The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) is strongly opposed to participation in capital punishment by an EMT, Paramedic or other emergency medical professional. Participation in executions is viewed as contrary to the fundamental goals and ethical obligations of emergency medical services.
(NAEMT Position Statement on EMT and Paramedic Participation in Capital Punishment, June 9, 2006)
Anesthesiologists Advised to Avoid Lethal Injections
Dr. Orin Guidry, president of the 40,000-member American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), issued a public statement strongly urging members to "steer clear" of any participation in executions by lethal injection. In a four-page "Message from the President," Guidry noted that anesthesiologists have been "reluctantly thrust into the middle" of the legal controversy over lethal injections. In recent months, the procedures being used around the United States have been challenged because they may result in unnecessary and excruciating pain in violation of the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Guidry's announcement came after U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. ordered a halt to executions in Missouri until the state makes major changes in its lethal injection procedures. In that ruling, Gaitan said that a board-certified anesthesiologist needs to certify that an inmate has achieved sufficient anesthetic depth so as to not feel undue pain when the remaining drugs from the lethal injection cocktail are injected. Gaitan's order stated that an anesthesiologist would be "responsible for the mixing of all drugs which are used in the lethal injection process" and would either administer the drugs himself or "directly observe those individuals who do so."
(Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2006). Read the full text of Dr. Guidry's "Message from the President."
Deepak Chopra Writes About the Death Penalty
Dr. Deepak Chopra recently wrote that continuing use of the death penalty in the U.S. is irrational because it does not deter crime, risks innocent lives, and isolates the U.S. among the majority of First World nations that have chosen to abandon capital punishment:
The U.S. has isolated itself among First World countries by allowing the death penalty -- 123 countries have abolished it completely, or in practice never use it, a few permitting it under extreme circumstances.
Execution amounts to cruel and unusual punishment by the world's prevailing standards. A current case before the Supreme Court is testing that proposition here. Yet somehow the American public feels undisturbed by this issue. Few if any politicians dare to run on the wrong side. In this case "wrong" means humane and rational. Why do we kill criminals? The right wing surely can't hide behind morality, unless they want to warp Jesus into an eye-for-an-eye advocate.
No, the death penalty is almost entirely irrational. It has little if any deterrent effect. Tragic mistakes have been made in its application. The very fact that inmates must wait on death row for years, even decades, is cruel enough. How many times do they die in their own minds before the actual event?
The landscape of cruelty in America has become more and more disturbing recently.
(Huffington Post, June 27, 2006). Deepak Chopra is the founder of the Chopra Center for Well Being in California and a leading expert in mind-body medicine.
Leading Forensic Scientist Calls For Halt to Executions Because of Faulty DNA Testing
An editorial by Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, notes that crime labs are overwhelmingly backlogged with work and that deficiencies of personnel, space and equipment in forensic science labs often lead to shoddy practices and erroneous test results, as recently exemplified by the problems uncovered at the Houston Police Department DNA lab (see below). Dr. Wecht notes:
There can be little doubt in the minds of trained, experienced forensic scientists that testing defects, backlog pressures, inadequately qualified personnel, and prosecutorial bias exist in many other DNA labs even though they have not yet been uncovered and publicly reported.
(Knight Ridder Tribune - Tallahassee Democrat, June 15, 2003)
American Psychological Association Calls for Death Penalty Moratorium
The American Psychological Association (APA), the largest association of psychologists worldwide, recently called for a moratorium on executions. In passing the resolution, the APA cited the number of wrongly convicted inmates exonerated by DNA testing, inconsistencies in prosecutors' decisions to seek the death penalty, and the role that race plays in death penalty cases. The resolution also noted that two-thirds of all death penalty cases from 1973-1995 were reversed because of error. The APA called upon each jurisdiction in the U.S. to halt executions "until the jurisdiction implements policies and procedures that can be shown . . . to ameliorate the deficiencies" cited in the resolution.
(APA Resolution, 8/26/01)
Doctor Urges Discipline for Execution Involvement
Sidney Wolfe, M.D., Director of Public Citizen Health Research Group, recently wrote to John Romine, M.D., President of the New Mexico State Board of Medical Examiners urging the immediate suspension of Dr. Fred Pintz's license to practice medicine because of Pintz's involvement in the upcoming execution of Terry Clark. According to the letter, Pintz, the Chief Medical Officer of the State of New Mexico, violated ethical and legal principles governing the Board of Medical Examiners when he authorized the acquisition and provision of the drugs to be used by the New Mexico Department of Corrections in the execution of Clark. Clark is scheduled for execution on November 6th.
Read Dr. Wofle's letter. (Shortly after Dr. Wolfe's letter was received, the execution drugs were returned to the State Dept. of Health. However, Terry Clark's execution went forward on Nov. 6.)