Non-Participation in Executions
The American College of Correctional Physicians has reaffirmed the inclusion of the following its 1998 Code of Ethics statement—(members shall) “not be involved in any aspect of execution of the death penalty.” Several national medical organizations have adopted statements regarding physician non-participation in executions. We reiterate those strongest positions, particularly supporting the American Medical Association’s Opinion 2.06 <1> regarding capital punishment. The AMA’s opinion emphasizes the inherent conflict between a physician’s duty to heal and participation in a person’s death, even while that participation may not be active. The AMA definition of participation, which we affirm, states, in part:
“Physician participation in execution is defined generally as actions which would fall into one or more of the following categories: (1) an action which would directly cause the death of the condemned; (2) an action which would assist, supervise, or contribute to the ability of another individual to directly cause the death of the condemned; (3) an action which could automatically cause an execution to be carried out on a condemned prisoner.” <1>
Physicians who work with incarcerated people are likely to be called upon to participate in executions in some fashion. The incarcerated are clearly and directly our patients and our work is to care for their medical needs. ACCP members and all correctional medical providers have the strongest ethical imperative not to participate in executions in any way, including the direct or indirect supervision of other members of the health care team.
- Physicians who work in correctional medicine, although we serve the facilities in which we work, must primarily be patient advocates, promoting appropriate health care for our patients within the usual physician-patient relationship.
- The physician-patient relationship may be quite tenuous in correctional facilities, given that health services providers can be seen as authoritarian figures who are subservient to their state employers. Participation in any aspect of implementation of the death penalty can easily damage this relationship despite the best intentions of the involved physician.
- Participation in any aspect of implementation of the death penalty does not increase the safety or security of the institution, and it does undermine our ability to care for our patients. Such participation or supervision at any level is not appropriate to our professional role.
- Physicians, while possessing special expertise in the use of medications and knowledge of the human body, should not utilize this skill and knowledge in assisting in the killing of human beings. The American College of Correctional Physicians agrees that correctional physicians should specifically decline to offer technical advice, procurement assistance, or physical participation in executions.
- The American College of Correctional Physicians affirms the AMA’s opinion 2.06 and other fellow associations, referring members and non-member correctional medical providers to the opinions for details and questions.
<1> http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion206.page?, accessed 7/31/2014.
<2> http://www.osteopathic.org/search/Pages/results.aspx?k=execution, accessed 7/09/2014.
<3> http://www.theaba.org/pdf/CapitalPunishmentCommentary.pdf accessed 7/30/2014.
Adopted by the ACCP Board of Directors July 8, 2014.