A national physicians organization has quietly decided to revoke the certification of any member who participates in executing a prisoner by lethal injection.
The mandate from the American Board of Anesthesiologists reflects its leaders' belief that "we are healers, not executioners," board secretary Mark A. Rockoff said. Although the American Medical Association has long opposed doctor involvement, the anesthesiologists' group is the first to say it will harshly penalize a health-care worker for abetting lethal injections. The loss of certification would prevent an anesthesiologist from working in most hospitals.
About half of the 35 states performing executions, including Virginia and North Carolina, require a doctor to be present. Other states have also recruited doctors, including anesthesiologists, to play a role in executions involving lethal injections. In some jurisdictions, anesthesiologists consult prison officials on dosages. In others, they insert catheters and infuse the three-drug cocktails.
While death penalty opponents welcome the move because it raises yet more questions about lethal injections, capital punishment supporters contend that doctors are not needed during the procedures, which can be administered by prison employees. But as questions mount about the types and combinations of drugs used and whether they cause undue suffering, states have been turning to doctors for advice and assistance. With 3,200 prisoners now on death rows across the country, most of the 50 executions performed each year since 2008 have used lethal injections.