Sharon F. Attaway-Kurrle, MD
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Attaway-Kurrle S.; Physicians and Capital Punishment. Ann Intern Med. 2002;136:W1. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-136-4-200202190-w1
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2002;136(4):W1.
TO THE EDITOR:
In their article on physicians' willingness to participate in lethal injection for capital punishment (1), Farber and colleagues found a correlation between a physician's approval of assisted suicide and an increased willingness to perform disallowed actions involving capital punishment. This raises an intriguing point about the obligation physicians have to persons who are sentenced to die or asking for assistance in taking their own lives. Twenty-two percent of respondents in Farber and colleagues' study felt that “one of the reasons physicians should be involved in capital punishment is their duty to society.” I am not clear about exactly what type of duty this could be. From a purely ethical standpoint, it would appear that a physician who practices in accordance with the Hippocratic Oath should be unable to reconcile his or her participation in either capital punishment or assisted suicide. I agree that it is not possible to determine whether the respondents in this particular study would “actually perform the actions as stated.” However, with the current trend of executions and assisted suicides, it might be interesting to know whether physicians who are in fact “injecting and inspecting” are doing so out of a sense of duty. And if so, duty to whom? I certainly don't find either of these activities natural roles for a physician to play.
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Print ISSN: 0003-4819 | Online ISSN: 1539-3704
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