A May 20, 2023 editorial in a leading medical academic journal concludes that physician participation in executions “goes against the ethical foundation of the physician’s role” and argues that doctors and medical associations should oppose capital punishment. 

The editorial in The Lancet describes how many physicians currently participate in executions: Doctors “clinically assess mental competence for execution; physically examine and monitor vital signs before, during, and after execution; and certify death. In extreme cases, physicians take the role of executioner and are implicated in illegal organ procurement from executed prisoners.” The authors note that some physicians may participate out of a desire to reduce suffering and others may be coerced into participating. But The Lancet agrees with the views of the World Medical Association, American Medical Association, Physicians for Human Rights, and other human rights groups that explicitly oppose medical professionals’ participation in capital punishment because it violates medical ethics. The Lancet concludes that, “Physician involvement [in executions] enables this continuing abuse of human rights and undermines the four pillars of medical ethics—beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice.”

The editorial also broadly criticizes the biased application of the death penalty around the world. Citing Amnesty International’s report on the global use of the death penalty in 2022, the editorial explains, “executions frequently correlate with areas where dictatorial regimes prevail, often silencing political protest and enforcing views on issues such as drug use and LGBTQ+ identities. …The death penalty is the most brutal form of structural, state-sanctioned discrimination, racism, and homophobia.”