Death Penalty and Medicine

The ethics of death penalty is already a huge controversy itself. However, when an individual whose goal is to make others live participates in such an action, the public and critics undeniably retaliate against it. Just how an ambulance intentionally crashing into a person is contradictory, physician participation in the death penalty is not any different.

Kim Marie Thorburn, in her paper “Physicians and the Death Penalty” states:

Medical involvement in executions occurs to relieve society’s uncertainty that the ultimate and irreversible punishment can be fairly and justly administered, but this service to society cannot be shown to outweigh the duty of beneficence. The decisive benefit to society of an execution cannot be demonstrated. The principle of beneficence dictates that physicians must not be involved in executions (Thorburn 639).

In this statement, Thorburn argues that although physician participation in the death penalty does in fact serve as a “relief” in people’s eye. This means that when physicians take a role in the death penalty, the cruel appearance and the violence of death penalty is less intense in people’s eyes. Actually, I agree with Thorburn on this matter. Note that the public image of a typical physician is regarded as a person who is responsible, caring, and simply a “savior”. Due to this reason, physicians participating in the death penalty do in fact serve as a relief in people’s eye. Consequently, this might in fact be considered as a service to the public.

However, Thorburn immediately also argues that this service cannot outweigh the duty of beneficence. I agree with Thorburn because although serving as a relief in people’s eye could be considered as a positive effect, the significance of this cannot be higher than physician’s duty of beneficence. . The lethal injection that is applied to the victims of death penalty serves towards alleviating the pain criminals go through during this process. However, according to Thorburn, this is not a valid reason for the justification of medical participation. When significant roles and bringing of being a physician is considered, being part of such an action seems to be contradictory.

As mentioned a physician’s main goal in his/her career is to help and provide assistance to people who are in need of it cite. In other words, physicians generally aim to contribute to the society both physically and mentally. Therefore, when looked from this perspective, Thorburn’s conclusion that physicians under no circumstance should not participate in the death penalty does hold to be true.

Another similar but significant claim is made by Donald Payne. In his paper “Why Physicians Should Oppose Death Penalty”, he asserts, “Medical tradition and ethics hold that all patients are entitled to adequate medical care, regardless of their economic, social or legal status. Transcending these is the recognition that all members of society have the right to life, a right which physicians are dedicated to preserving” (Payne 1208). Note that one of the most important factors that distinguish the medical field from most of the professions is its justness and indiscrimination. Under no condition, a physician can discriminate against any human being with a specific character, race, condition, and color. If it did, then the purity of the medical field would be dishonored. In other words, conduct wise, it would not be any different than a conservative political party. Simply, saving lives that might otherwise be lost is the purpose of physicians. On the contrary, the idea behind death penalty is to take the life of the victim for his/her crime. One might argue that the “victim” is a criminal that caused great harm to the society. However as mentioned, it is not up to the medical world to treat that person differently. Obviously if a physician does not want to take any action that will benefit the criminal, he/she cannot cross the line and participate in his/her killing. If they do cross the line and actively participate in the death penalty, then what makes them different from rest of the public? How could one even rely on a physician that actively took a role in killing another human being?