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California: Physician Participation in Executions

Controversy in California: Physician Participation in Executions in the United States

HRW Report Explores the Role of Medical Personnel in Executions

On February 21, 2006 two anesthesiologists refused to participate in the scheduled execution by lethal injection of Michael Morales in California. Their widely reported action highlights the ongoing conflict between medical ethics and the role of medical personnel in executions. This conflict is explored in Breach of Trust: Physician Participation in Executions in the United States, a report prepared in 1994 by the American College of Physicians, Human Rights Watch, The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and Physicians for Human Rights. The report documents that physicians are often mandated to participate in executions by state laws and regulations. As a result, physicians participate in executions, despite clear prohibitions on such participation in international and national ethical and professional codes of conduct.

Execution is not a medical procedure, and is not within the scope of medical practice. Physicians are entrusted by society to relieve suffering and work for the benefit of their patients and the public. This trust is shattered when medical skills are used to facilitate state executions.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and irreversibility.

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