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Physicians' Willingness To Participate in the Process of Lethal Injection for Capital Punishment

Neil J. Farber, MD; Brian M. Aboff, MD; Joan Weiner, PhD; Elizabeth B. Davis, PhD; E. Gil Boyer, EdD; and Peter A. Ubel, MD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

From Christiana Health Care System, Wilmington, Delaware; and Drexel University, St. Joseph's University, and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Grant Support: By the Osler Fund, Department of Medicine, Christiana Care Health System. Dr. Ubel is a recipient of a Career Development Award in health services research from the Department of Veterans Affairs and is a Robert Wood Johnson Generalist Physician Faculty Scholar.

Requests for Single Reprints: Neil J. Farber, MD, Department of Medicine, Christiana Care Health System, 501 West 14th Street, Wilmington, DE 19899; e-mail, nfarber@christianacare.org.

Current Author Addresses: Drs. Farber and Aboff: Department of Medicine, Christiana Care Health System, 501 West 14th Street, Wilmington, DE 19899.

Dr. Weiner: Management Department, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

Dr. Davis: Administrative Sciences, George Washington University, 2136 Pennsylvania Avenue, 301, Washington, DC 20052.

Dr. Boyer: Department of Management and Information Systems, Mandeville Hall, St. Joseph's University, 5600 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131.

Dr. Ubel: Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs and University of Michigan, 300 North Ingalls, Room 7C27, Campus Box 0429, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0429.

Author Contributions: Conception and design: N.J. Farber, B.M. Aboff, J. Weiner, E.G. Boyer, P.A. Ubel.

Analysis and interpretation of the data: N.J. Farber, J. Weiner, E.B. Davis, E.G. Boyer, P.A. Ubel.

Drafting of the article: N.J. Farber.

Critical revision of the article for important intellectual content: N.J. Farber, J. Weiner, E.B. Davis, E.G. Boyer, P.A. Ubel.

Final approval of the article: N.J. Farber, B.M. Aboff, J. Weiner, E.B. Davis, E.G. Boyer, P.A. Ubel.

Provision of study materials or patients: N.J. Farber.

Obtaining of funding: N.J. Farber.

Collection and assembly of data: N.J. Farber.

Ann Intern Med. 2001;135(10):884-888. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-135-10-200111200-00008
Text Size: A A A

Background: It has been found that physicians condone colleague involvement in capital punishment. Physicians' own willingness to participate has not been explored.

Objective: To examine physicians' willingness to be involved in cases of capital punishment.

Design: Survey exploring physicians' willingness to participate in 10 aspects of capital punishment by lethal injection, 8 of which are disallowed by the American Medical Association.

Setting: United States.

Participants: 1000 randomly selected practicing physicians.

Measurements: Questions assessing willingness to be involved in and attitudes toward capital punishment.

Results: 41% of respondents indicated that they would perform at least one action disallowed by the American Medical Association; 25% would perform five or more disallowed actions. Perceived duty to society (P < 0.001), approval of the death penalty (P < 0.001), and approval of assisted suicide (P = 0.015) correlated with increased willingness to perform disallowed actions. Only 3% of respondents knew of any guidelines on this issue.

Conclusions: Despite medical society policies, many physicians would be willing to be involved in the execution of adults. The medical profession needs to be better informed about the ethical issues involved in physician participation in capital punishment.


Grahic Jump Location
Percentage of physicians surveyed (n = 413) who were willing to perform actions involving capital punishment by lethal injection that are allowed and disallowed by the American Medical Association.

White bars indicate disallowed actions; shaded bars indicate allowed actions. IV = intravenous.

Grahic Jump Location




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Summary for Patients

Doctors' Willingness To Participate in the Death Penalty

The summary below is from the full report titled “Physicians' Willingness To Participate in the Process of Lethal Injection for Capital Punishment.” It is in the 20 November 2001 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (volume 135, pages 884–888). The authors are NJ Farber, BM Aboff, J Weiner, EB Davis, EG Boyer, and PA Ubel.


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