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July 21, 1993

Physician Participation in Capital Punishment

Author Affiliations

From the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, American Medical Association, Chicago, Ill.
Gallipolis, Ohio; Durham, NC; Canton, Mass; Washington, DC; Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles, Calif; Santa Ana, Calif; Edwardsville, III; Buffalo, NY; Chicago, III; Ann Arbor, Mich

JAMA. 1993;270(3):365-368. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510030089040

BACKGROUND  The question of physician participation in capital punishment has a long history.1 Physicians have helped develop execution methods that were more humane than conventional methods. The most famous example is that of Dr Joseph Guillotin, who developed a mechanism for execution that he believed to be far more humane and civilized than other contemporary methods.2 However, other physicians have disagreed with any physician participation in the death penalty.1 The Oath of Hippocrates has historically been interpreted as prohibiting physician participation in executions. The Oath states in part:I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anyone when asked to do so nor will I suggest such a course.1During the 1970s, states began to consider use of lethal injection when executing condemned prisoners.