Wednesday, July 19, 2006

When Law and Ethics Collide!

Three major medical groups condemn most forms of participation in the execution process!
source: PBS NOW with David Brancaccio

American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA)
Doctors should not help put inmates to death by lethal injection, the president of the ASA wrote in a message to colleagues last month. "The legal system has painted itself into a corner and it is not our obligation to get it out," Dr. Orin F. Guidry wrote on the organization's website. Guidry told AP that he posted the statement in response to a federal judge's order last week halting executions in Missouri until the state takes certain actions, such as finding board-certified anesthesiologists to oversee lethal injections.

Although the group does not have an official policy on the issue, the ASA recognizes the American Medical Association's ethical principles about physician participation in lethal injections, in particular that physicians should not participate in executions.

The president's message on lethal injection is available on the website of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

American Medical Association (AMA)

The AMA's ethics council has guidelines stating that it is unethical for physicians to engage in most aspects of lethal injection because a physician is "dedicated to preserving life." For example, physicians may not select fatal injection sites or start intravenous lines, prescribe or administer drugs used in the process, or consult with or supervise lethal injection personnel. Some actions, such as evaluating a prisoner psychiatrically to determine if the execution can proceed, are approved.

"Do we adhere to the patient's wishes if there's hope of prolonging life or preserving health, or do we simply participate in an execution?... and our position is that's not what doctors are supposed to do; we are healers, we are not killers," Dr. Priscilla Ray of the American Medical Association's ethics council told NPR in February 2006.

The full AMA guidelines on capital punishment are available at the website of the American Medial Association.

American Nurses Association (ANA)

The ANA says it is strongly opposed to nurse involvement in capital punishment. In its position statement, the association states that "participation in executions is considered contrary to the fundamental goals and ethical traditions of the profession." It cites "The Code for Nurses", nursing's ethical code of conduct, which stipulates that "the nurse does not act deliberately to terminate the life of any person." The ANA goes on to say that the nurses' obligation to refrain from causing death should not be breached, even when sanctioned by the law.

The full statement is available from The American Nurses Association


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