realitycheck(dot)ie

Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Physicians are healers, not executioners

From today's New England Journal of Medicine, an article on why physicians participate in executions.
There's 1 particularly poignant line -
Dr. A put on sterile gloves, gown, and mask. He swabbed the man's skin with antiseptic.
"Why?" I asked.
"Habit," he said.


The author says - I have personally been in favor of the death penalty. I was a senior official in the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign and in the administration, and in that role I defended the President's stance in support of capital punishment. I have no illusions that the death penalty deters anyone from murder. I also have great concern about the ability of our justice system to avoid putting someone innocent to death. However, I believe there are some human beings who do such evil as to deserve to die.
But he believes that is wrong that doctors and nurses use their skills in executions.
Dr D is the opposite - He opposes the death penalty because he regards it as inhumane, immoral, and pointless. And he has participated in six executions so far.

I am thankful that as a doctor in this country, I will never be called upon to participate in an execution. But there is something in this article that troubles me - that these doctors believed something was wrong, but went ahead and got involved because of their responsibility to their patients.
Service of our patients has be at the centre of anyone working in the health service, but what's the point of having principles if they are so easily overriden?

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