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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Doctors Refuse to Assist Execution

From the Times Online:

The execution of a Californian man was postponed at the last minute yesterday after two court-appointed doctors refused to help to administer the lethal injection, a move that reignited America’s death penalty debate.

Michael Morales, who has been on death row since 1983 for the rape and murder of a teenage girl, was scheduled to die at 12.01am. But the execution was suddenly put off after the two anaesthetists withdrew, claiming their involvement would violate their medical oath to preserve life.

The involvement of the doctors, which had been ordered by a judge, was the first such case in the US and stemmed directly from research in The Lancet, the British medical journal, last year. The article, published in April, has shaken up advocates on both sides of the death penalty issue in the US because it suggested that some prisoners executed by lethal injection suffered agonising deaths...

...But rather than stay the execution, the judge gave prison officials two options: bring in the doctors to ensure that Morales was properly anaesthetised, or forgo the paralysing and heart-stopping drugs and kill Morales with a huge dose of barbiturates. The state of California agreed to provide two unidentified anaesthetists.

Just hours before the execution time, everything appeared in order. Despite the fierce opposition to medical participation in executions by the American Society of Anaesthesiologists and the American Medical Association, on the ground that physicians take an oath to preserve life, the two doctors are understood to have volunteered to attend the lethal injection procedure.

Then, shortly before the execution was due to take place, the doctors withdrew. They appear to have become alarmed at the details of the judge’s order, in particular a requirement that they intervene in the event that Morales woke up or appeared to be in pain. “Any such intervention would clearly be medically unethical,” they said.

Morales was again due to be executed early today, this time by a fatal overdose of barbiturates. But the delays and confusion increased hopes among death penalty opponents that both public opinion, and that of the courts, was shifting against the death penalty.

Here's more from The Mercury News:

"the state said it could not find a licensed medical professional to give the lethal injection. Previously, prison employees have inserted the intravenous lines, and then the drugs were added by a machine."

Doctors are violating the Hippocratic oath when they assist in executions. As California Medical Association CEO Jack Lewin, M.D says, "Physicians should be treating people’s illnesses, not participating in their execution. Participation in an execution goes against longstanding principles of professional ethics and is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath: First, Do No Harm.” Therefore, I am glad that the medical community has decided to take a stand. I was surprised to find out that the California Medical Association (CMA) is also opposed to physician assisted suicide.

However, the CMA supports abortion, although this too is against the Hippocratic oath. I suppose getting 2 out of 3 right is better than most. But you would think that they would at least remain consistent.

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