American Journal of Bioethics.

The Ethical Elephant in the Death Penalty Room

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that execution by a
commonly used protocol of drug administration does not represent cruel
or unusual punishment. Various medical journals have editorialized on
this drug protocol, the death penalty in general and the role that
physicians play. Many physicians, and societies of physicians, express
the opinion that it is unethical for doctors to participate in
executions. This Target Article explores the harm that occurs to murder
victims’ relatives when an execution is delayed or indefinitely
postponed. By using established principles in psychiatry and the
science of the brain, it is shown that victims’ relatives can suffer
brain damage when justice is not done. Conversely, adequate justice can
reverse some of those changes in the brain. Thus, physician opposition
to capital punishment may be contributing to significant harm. In this
context, the ethics of physician involvement in lethal injection is

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Volume 8, Issue 10
October 2008