Thursday, July 19, 2007

Catholic officials sympathize with slain boy’s family but decry Gov. Crist’s first death warrant

Jacquelyn Horkan, of the Florida Catholic staff

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist officially ended Florida’s moratorium on the death penalty Wednesday by signing a warrant for the execution of Mark Dean Schwab. On the same day, the Florida Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments on a challenge to lethal injection.

The two events renew the debate over whether lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment or a constitutionally correct method for administering justice.

“The church admits that the state has the right to kill in order to protect society,” said Sheila Hopkins, associate director for respect life and social concerns at the Florida Catholic Conference. “But the state has the ability to keep society safe without killing people because we can send them to prison forever.”

Schwab was sentenced to death in 1992 for the rape and murder of Junny Rios-Martinez. Schwab, who had recently been released from prison for sexually assaulting another minor, targeted the 11-year-old Cocoa boy after spotting a photograph of him in a local paper. There are some who believe that Crist chose Schwab for his first execution warrant because of the particularly heinous nature of his crime.

“We certainly have a lot of sympathy for the family,” said Hopkins, “but this is just responding to violence with more violence.”

The moratorium on executions was declared by then-Gov. Jeb Bush after the botched execution of Angel Nieves Diaz, who took 34 minutes to die, more than twice the time for most executions. An autopsy later revealed that the needles injected into Diaz’s arms to deliver the killing drugs had punctured the blood vessels and entered into the soft tissue of his arms.

The Diaz execution spawned a challenge to the state’s lethal injection process after witnesses said that Diaz seemed to suffer during his more-than-half-hour ordeal.

In a May 18 court hearing on that challenge, Dale Recinella said he immediately phoned his wife. “I told her I had just watched a man be tortured to death,” recounted the volunteer Department of Corrections Catholic lay minister.

The circuit court judge hearing the challenge has informed the Florida Supreme Court that he will render a judgment in the case by Sept. 10. The Supreme Court, anticipating an appeal whichever way the circuit court judge rules, has scheduled oral arguments for Oct. 11. Schwab’s execution is scheduled for Nov. 15.

A commission created by Bush to study Florida’s lethal injection procedure recommended changes to Department of Corrections’ policies. The panel suggested increased training for the execution team and a study of whether the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injection is sufficient to prevent suffering.

Department of Corrections Secretary James McDonough adopted many of the recommendations, but chose to stick with the current three-drug protocol.

“I am confident that the training, organization and communication processes established by the Commission on Administration of Lethal Injection and adopted by the State of Florida Department of Corrections are consistent with the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” said Crist in a written statement.

A scientific review of lethal injection disputes that conclusion, however. A study released this year by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found that the drugs often did not work. “Lethal injection could cause prisoners to die by asphyxiation while conscious and in pain,” concluded the researchers.


dudleysharp said...

Pope John Paul II: His death penalty errors
by Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
(contact info, below)
October 1997, with subsequent updates thru 5/07

The new Roman Catholic position on the death penalty, introduced in 1997, is based upon the thoughts of Pope John Paul II, whose position conflicts with reason, as well as biblical, theological and traditional Catholic teachings spanning nearly 2000 years.
Pope John Paul II's death penalty writings in Evangelium Vitae were flawed and their adoption into the Catechism was improper.

In 1997, the Roman Catholic Church decided to amend the 1992 Universal Catechism to reflect Pope John Paul II's comments within his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). Therein, the Pope finds that the only time executions can be justified is when they are required "to defend society" and that "as a result of steady improvements . . . in the penal system that such cases are very rare if not practically non existent."
This is, simply, not true.  Murderers, tragically, harm and murder, again, way too often.
Three issues, inexplicably, escaped the Pope's consideration.
First, in the Pope's context, "to defend society" means that the execution of the murderer must save future lives or, otherwise, prevent future harm.  
When looking at the history of  criminal justice practices in probations, paroles and incarcerations, we observe countless examples of when judgements and procedures failed and, because of that, murderers harmed and/or murdered, again. History details that murderers murder and otherwise harm again, time and time again -- in prison, after escape, after improper release, and, of course, after we fail to capture or incarcerate them. 
Reason dictates that living murderers are infinitely more likely to harm and/or murder again than are executed murderers. 
Therefore,  the Pope could err, by calling for a reduction or end to execution, and thus sacrifice more innocents, or he could "err" on the side of protecting more innocents by calling for an expansion of executions.
History, reason and the facts support an increase in executions based upon a defending society foundation. 
Secondly, if social science concludes that executions provide enhanced deterrence for murders, then the Pope's position should call for increased executions. 
If  we decide that the deterrent effect of executions does not exist and we, therefore, choose not to execute, and we are wrong, this will sacrifice more innocent lives and also give those murderers the opportunity to harm and murder again. 
If we choose to execute, believing in the deterrent effect, and we are wrong, we are executing our worst human rights violators and preventing such murderers from ever harming or murdering again - again, saving more innocent lives.
No responsible social scientist has or will say that the death penalty deters no one.  Quite a few studies, including 10 recent ones,  find that executions do deter. 
As all prospects for negative consequence deter some,  it is a mystery why the Pope chose the option which spares murderers and sacrifices more innocent lives. 
If the Pope's defending society position has merit, then, again, the Church must actively support executions, as it offers an enhanced defense of society and greater protection for innocent life.
Thirdly, we know that some criminals don't murder because of their fear of execution.  This is known as the individual deterrent effect.  Unquestionably, the incapacitation effect (execution) and the individual deterrent effect both exist and they both defend society by protecting innocent life and offer enhanced protections over imprisonment. Furthermore, individual deterrence assures us that general deterrence must exist, because individual deterrence could not exist without it. 

Executions save more innocent lives. 
Therefore, the Pope's defending society standard should be a call for increasing executions. Instead, the Pope and other Church leadership has chosen a position that spares the lives of known murderers, resulting in more innocents put at risk and more innocents harmed and murdered --  a position which, quite clearly, contradicts the Pope's, and other's, conclusions.
Contrary to the Church's belief, that the Pope's opinion represents a tougher stance against the death penalty, the opposite is true. When properly evaluated, the defending society position supports more executions.
Had these issues been properly assessed, the Catechism would never have been amended  --  unless the Church endorses a position knowing that it would spare the lives of guilty murderers, at the cost of sacrificing more innocent victims. 
When the choice is between

1) sparing murderers, resulting in more harmed and murdered innocents, who suffer through endless moments of incredible horror, with no additional time to prepare for their salvation, or
2) executing murderers, who are given many years on death row to prepare for their salvation, and saving more innocents from being murdered,

the Pope and the Catholic Church have an obligation to spare the innocent, as Church tradition, the Doctors of the Church and many Saints have concluded. (see reference, below)
Pope John Paul II's death penalty stance was his own, personal prudential judgement and does not bind any other Catholic to share his position. Any Catholic can choose to support more executions, based upon their own prudential judgement, and remain a Catholic in good standing.
Furthermore, prudential judgement requires a foundation of reasoned and thorough review. The Pope either improperly evaluated the risk to innocents or he did not evaluate it at all.
A defending society position supports more executions, not less. Therefore, his prudential judgement was in error on this important fact.
Furthermore, defending society is an outcome of the death penalty, but is secondary to the foundation of justice and biblical instruction.
Even though Romans and additional writings do reveal a "defending society" consideration, such references pale in comparison to the mandate that execution is the proper punishment for murder, regardless of any consideration "to defend society."  Both the Noahic covenant, in Genesis 9:6 ("Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed."), and the Mosaic covenant, throughout the Pentateuch (Ex.: "He that smiteth a man so that he may die, shall be surely put to death."  Exodus 21:12), provide execution as the punishment for unjustifiable/intentional homicide, otherwise known as murder.
These texts, and others, offer specific rebuttal to the Pope's position that if "bloodless means" for punishment are available then such should be used, to the exclusion of execution. Pope John Paul II's prudential judgement does not trump biblical instruction.
Most telling is the fact that Roman Catholic tradition instructs four elements to be considered  with criminal sanction.
1.  Defense of society against the criminal.
2.  Rehabilitation of the criminal (including spiritual rehabilitation).
3.  Retribution, which is the reparation of the disorder caused by the criminal's transgression.
4.   Deterrence
It is a mystery why and how the Pope could have excluded three of these important elements and wrongly evaluated the fourth. In doing so, though, we can confirm that his review was incomplete and improper. 
At least two Saints, Paul and Dismas, faced execution and stated that it was appropriate. They were both executed.
The Holy Ghost decided that death was the proper punishment for two devoted, early Christians,  Ananias and his wife, Saphira,  for the crime/sin of lying. Neither was given a moment to consider their earthly punishment or to ask for forgiveness. The Holy Ghost struck them dead.
For those who erroneously contend that Jesus abandoned the Law of the Hebrew Testament, He states that He has come not "to abolish the law and the prophets . . . but to fulfill them."  Matthew 5:17-22.  While there is honest debate regarding the interpretation of Mosaic Law within a Christian context, there seems little dispute that the Noahic Covenant is still in effect and that Genesis 9:6 deals directly with the sanctity of life issue in its support of execution.

(read "A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World" by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).
"In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die (Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10, referring to Ex 21:17; cf. Lev 20:9). (Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, 10/7/2000)
Saint Pius V reaffirms this mandate, in the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), stating that executions are acts of "paramount obedience to this [Fifth] Commandment."  ("Thou shalt not murder," sometimes improperly translated as "kill" instead of "murder").  And, not only do the teachings of Saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine concur, but both saints also find that such punishment actually reflects charity and mercy by preventing the wrongdoer from sinning further.  The Saints position is that execution offers undeniable defense of society as well as defense of the wrongdoer.
Such prevention also expresses the fact that execution is an enhanced defense of society, over and above all other punishments.
The relevant question is "What biblical and theological teachings, developed from 1566 through 1997, provide that the standard for executions should evolve from 'paramount obedience' to God's eternal law to a civil standard reflecting 'steady improvements' . . . in the penal system?".  Such teachings hadn't changed.  The Pope's position is social and contrary to biblical, theological and traditional teachings.
If Saint Pius V was correct, that executions represent "paramount obedience to the [Fifth] Commandments, then is it not disobedient to reduce or stop executions?
The Church's position on the use of the death penalty has been consistent from 300 AD through 1995 AD.  The Church has always supported the use of executions, based upon biblical and theological principles.
Until 1995, says John Grabowski, associate professor of Moral Theology at Catholic University, " . . .  Church teachings were supportive of the death penalty.  You can find example after example of Pope's, of theologians and others, who have supported the right of the state to inflict capital punishment for certain crimes and certain cases." Grabowski continues: "What he (the Pope now) says, in fact, in his encyclical, is that given the fact that we now have the ability, you know, technology and facilities to lock up someone up for the rest of their lives so they pose no future threat to society -- given that question has been answered or removed, there is no longer justification for the death penalty."  (All Things Considered, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, 9/9/97.)
The Pope's position is now based upon the state of the corrections system -- a position neither biblical nor theological in nature.  Furthermore, it is a position which conflicts with the history of prisons.  Long term incarceration of lawbreakers in Europe began in the 1500s.  Of course, long term incarceration of slaves had begun thousands of years before --  meaning that all were aware that criminal wrongdoers  could also be subject to bondage, if necessary - something that all historians and biblical scholars -- now and then --  were and are well aware of. 
Since it's inception, the Church has issued numerous pronouncements, encyclicals and previous Universal Catechisms.  Had any biblical or theological principle called for a replacement of the death penalty by life imprisonment, it would have been revealed long before 1995. 
There is, finally, a disturbing reality regarding the Pope's new standard.  The Pope's defending society standard requires that the moral concept of justice becomes irrelevant.  The Pope's standard finds that capital punishment can be used only as a vehicle to prevent future crimes. Therefore, using the Pope's standard, the moral/biblical rational -- that capital punishment is the just or required punishment for murder -- is no longer relevant to the sin/crime of murder. 
If defending society is the new standard, the Pope has decided that the biblical standards of atonement, expiation, justice and required punishments have all, necessarily, been discarded, with regard to execution.
The Pope's new position establishes that capital punishment no longer has any connection to the harm done or to the imbalance to be addressed.  Yet, such connection had always been, until now, the Church's historical, biblically based perspective on this sanction.  Under a defending society standard, the injury suffered by the murder victim is no longer relevant to their punishment.  Executions can be justified solely upon that punishments ability to prevent future harm by the murderer.

Therefore, when considering executions in regard to capital murder cases, a defending society standard renders justice irrelevant.  Yet, execution defends society to a degree unapproachable by any other punishment and, therefore, should have been fully supported by the Pope.
"Some enlightened people would like to banish all conception of retribution or desert from our theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself.  They do not see that by doing so they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it?" (quote attributed to the distinguished Christian writer C. S. Lewis)
Again, with regard to the Pope's prudential judgement, his neglect of justice was most imprudent.
Some Catholic scholars, properly, have questioned the appropriateness of including prudential judgement within a Catechism. Personal opinion does not belong within a Catechism and, likely, will never be allowed, again. I do not believe it had ever been allowed before.
In fact, neither the Church nor the Pope would accept a defending society standard for use of the death penalty, unless the Church and the Pope believed that such punishment was just and deserved, as well.  The Church has never questioned the authority of the government to execute in "cases of extreme gravity," nor does it do so with these recent changes. 
Certainly, the Church and the Pope John Paul II believe that the prevention of any and all violent crimes fulfills a defending society position.  There is no doubt that executions defend society at a level higher than incarceration. Why has the Pope and many within Church leadership chosen a path that spares murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives, when they could have chosen a stronger defense of society which spares more innocents?
Properly, the Pope did not challenge the Catholic biblical and theological support for capital punishment.  The Pope has voiced his own, personal belief as to the appropriate application of that penalty. 
So why has the Pope come out against executions, when his own position -- a defense of society -- which, both rationally and factually, has a foundation supportive of more executions?
It is unfortunate that the Pope, along with some other leaders in the Church, have decided to, improperly, use a defending society position to speak against the death penalty.
The Pope's position against the death penalty condemns more innocents and neglects justice.


These references provide a thorough rebuke of the current Roman Catholic Church teachings against the death penalty and, particularly, deconstruct the many improper pronouncements made by the US Bishops.
(1)"The Death Penalty", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, by Romano Amerio, 
in a blog     (replace dot)    domid.blogspot(DOT)com/2007/05/amerio-on-capital-punishment.html
titled "Amerio on capital punishment "Friday, May 25, 2007 
NOTE: Thoughtful deconstruction of current Roman Catholic teaching on capital punishment by a faithful Catholic Vatican insider.

(2)  "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at

(3)  "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective" at

(4) "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 2003



(7) Forgotten Truths: "Is The Church Against Abortion and The Death Penalty", by Luiz Sergio Solimeo, Crusade Magazine, p14-16, May/June 2007

(8) "God’s Justice and Ours" by Antonin Scalia, First Things, 5/2002

(9) "The Death Penalty", by Solange Strong Hertz at

(10) "Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says", Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Abingdon Press, 1987. The definitive biblical review of the death penalty.
copyright 1997-2007 Dudley Sharp
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail sharp(at), 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
Pro death penalty sites 
www(dot)  (Sweden)

Permission for distribution of this document is approved as long as it is distributed in its entirety, without changes, inclusive of this statement.

dudleysharp said...

Lethal Injection: Current Controversies Resolved
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info, below
updated 5/11//07
Several issues have come up with regard to lethal injection.
Generally, they are:
1) The murderer experiencing pain during execution;
2) The ethics of medical professionals participating in executions; and
3) Proper training of execution personnel.
The evidence, including the immediate autopsy of executed serial murderer/rapist Michael Ross, supports that there is no pain within the lethal injection process.

There is a concern that some inmates may be conscious, but paralyzed, during execution, because one of the three drugs used may have worn off, prior to death.
First, there is no evidence this has occurred. There is speculation.
Secondly, if properly administered, it cannot occur with the properties and amounts of the chemicals used and within the time frame of an execution.

Thirdly, no one has explained how the first drug could have worn off, within the time frame of execution. Or, how is it that the first drug was, somehow, improperly administered, but the second and third were not, when using the same lines and procedures?

An Associated Press reporter correctly stated that  "there is little to support those claims except a few anecdotes of inmates gasping and convulsing and an article in the British medical journal Lancet." (AP, "Death penalty foes attack lethal-injection drug", 7/5/05)
The British Medical Journal, The Lancet, published an article critical of lethal injection (Volume 365, 4/16/05). A follow up article, by essential the same group of researchers, published a similar report in PLoS Medicine on 4/24/07.

The articles did not/could not identify one case where evidence existed than an inmate was conscious during execution.  

The Lancet article identified 21 cases of execution where the level of "post mortem" (after death) sodium thiopental was below that used in surgery and, therefore,  may suggest consciousness was possible. 

A more accurate description would be all but impossible.
A "long after execution" post mortem measurement of sodium thiopental is very different from a moment of death measurement.

Dr. Lydia Conlay, chair of the department of anesthesiology, Baylor College of Medicine (Texas Medical Center, Houston) said the extrapolation of postmortem sodium thiopental levels in the blood to those at the time of execution is by no means a proven method. "I just don't think we can draw any conclusions from (the Lancet study) , one way or the other."
Actually, we can. The science is well known.  Sodium thiopental is absorbed rapidly into the body. Long after execution blood testing of those levels means absolutely nothing with regard to the levels at the time of execution.  Nothing.
The Lancet article did not dispute the obvious --  for executions,  the sodium thiopental is administered in dosages roughly 10-20  times the amount necessary for sedation unconsciousness during surgical procedures.

Unconsciousness occurs within the first 30 seconds of the injection/execution process. The injection of the three drugs takes from 4-5 minutes. Death usually occurs within 6-7 minutes and is pronounced within 8-10 minutes.

The researchers also failed to note the much lower probability (impossibility?) that the murderer could be conscious, while all three drugs are coursing through the veins, concurrently.
Despite the Lancet article's presumptions and omissions, there is no scientific evidence that consciousness could occur with the amounts and methods of injecting those three chemicals within the execution period.
The AP article also stated that "They (death penalty opponents)  also attack lethal injection by saying that the steps to complete it haven't been reviewed by medical professionals."
That is both deceptive and irrelevant.
The unchallenged reality is that medical professionals have both reviewed and implemented injection procedures for decades. The same procedures are used in executions. Criminal justice professionals have been trained in this application.

Does anyone not know this?

The chemicals used in lethal injection, as well as their individual and collective results, at the dosages used, are also well known by medical and pharmacology professionals. And this?
Dr. A. Jay Chapman, the former Oklahoma Medical Examiner, who created the protocol, consulted a toxicologist and two anesthesiologists. He states the obvious " ' . . .it didn't actually require much research because the three chemicals - a painkiller, a muscle-paralyzing agent and a heart-stopper - are well-known to physicians.' 'It is anesthetizing someone for a surgical procedure, but simply carried to an extreme.' 'If it is competently administered, there will be no question about this business of pain and suffering.' "("Lethal Injection Father Defends Creation", Paul Ellias, Associated Press, 5/10/07)

Further, lethal injection is not a medical procedure, but the culmination of a judicial sentence carried out by criminal justice professionals, the result of which is intended as death, the outcome of every case. 
The follow up research/article is "Lethal Injection for Execution: Chemical Asphyxiation?"(Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine, 4/24/07). Dr. Koniaris was an author in both this and the Lancet article.

The question mark from the title says it all.
From the Conclusion:
" . . . our findings suggest that current lethal injection protocols "may" not reliably effect death through the mechanisms intended, indicating a failure of design and implementation. "If" thiopental and potassium chloride fail to cause anesthesia and cardiac arrest, potentially aware inmates "could" die through pancuronium-induced asphyxiation." (Underline, quote and color change are mine, for emphasis)
In other words, the authors tell us they cannot prove this has ever happened. They are speculating.

Skip the speculation: Some Reality

From Hartford Courant, "Ross Autopsy Stirs Execution Debate----Results Cited To Counter Talk Of Pre-Death Pain", August 11, 2005

The below is a paraphrase of parts of that article, including some exact quotes.

Results of the autopsy done on serial killer Michael Ross are being cited by several prominent doctors to refute a highly publicized article that appeared in The Lancet, the British medical journal, in April, 2005.

Critics of the Lancet article say it does not account for postmortem redistribution of the anesthetic - thiopental. The redistribution, the critics say, accounts for the lower levels of thiopental on which Dr. Koniaris based his Lancet article conclusions that the levels of anesthetic were inadequate. The Ross autopsy results document this redistribution, bolstering the critics' assertions.

Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, Connecticut's chief medical examiner, was aware of the controversial Lancet article before performing the Ross autopsy. As a result, he took the additional step of drawing a sample of Ross's blood 20 minutes after he was pronounced dead at 2:25 a.m. May 13. Carver took a subsequent sample during the autopsy, which began about 7 hours later, at 9:40 a.m.

The 1st sample showed a concentration of 29.6 milligrams per liter of thiopental; the second sample showed a concentration of 9.4 milligrams per liter. The 1st sample was drawn from Ross' right femoral artery, and the second from his heart, which can account for some of the discrepancy. But Dr. Mark Heath, a New York anesthesiologist and one of the numerous doctors who have signed letters to The Lancet challenging the Koniaris article, said it clearly substantiates the postmortem redistribution of the thiopental.

Dr. Jonathan Groner, a pediatric surgeon from Ohio said he interviewed a number of forensic toxicologists before adopting the view that thiopental in a corpse leaves the blood and is absorbed by the fat, causing blood samples taken hours after death to be an unreliable marker of the levels of thiopental in the body at the time of death.

Groner described the Ross autopsy results as "a powerful refutation" of the Lancet-Koniaris study.

Dr. Ashraf Mozayani, a forensic toxicologist with the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office in Texas, said the level of thiopental "drops quite a bit" after death. Even in the living, Mozayani said, thiopental levels decline rapidly after administration of the drug. She cited one study in which a patient was administered 400 milligrams of thiopental intravenously. After two minutes the concentration in the blood was measured at 28 milligrams, but dropped to 3 milligrams concentration 19 minutes after the anesthetic was injected.

Mozayani said the declining concentration of thiopental cited in the Ross autopsy report "make sense."

On The Lancet article, she said, "I don't think they have the whole story - the postmortem redistribution and all the other things they have to consider for postmortem testing." 

NOTE: I think that had and knew the whole story. They just didn't include it in their report(s).
The Veterinary sidetrack
Opponents of the death penalty, as well as other uninformed or deceptive sources, have been stating that even vets do not use the paralytic agent in the euthanasia of animals. This is a perversion of the veterinary position, which actually provides support, however unintended, for the human execution process.
Some fact checking is in order  -- www(dot)


 Medical groups cite that there is an ethical conflict for participation in the lethal injection process, because medical professionals have a requirement to "do no harm".
Those ethical codes pertain to their medical profession, only.
For example, both doctors and nurses can be police and soldiers and can kill, when deemed appropriate,  within those lines of duty and without violating the ethical codes of their medical profession. Similarly, medical professionals do not violate their codes of ethics, when acting as technical experts, for executions, in a criminal justice procedure.
Physicians are often part of double or triple blind studies where there is hope that the tested drugs may, someday, prove beneficial. The physicians and other researchers know that many patients, taking placebos or less effective drugs, will suffer more additional harm or death because they are not taking the subject drug or that the subject drug will actually harm or kill more patients than the placebo of other drugs used in the study.
Physicians  knowingly harm individual patients, in direct contradiction to their "do no harm" oath.
For the greater good, those physicians sacrifice innocent, willing and brave patients. Of course, there have been medical experiments without consent and, even, today, they continue ("Critical Care Without Consent", Washington Post, May 27, 2007; Page A01).
The greater good is irrelevant, from an ethical standpoint, if "Do no harm" means "do no harm".  Physicians knowingly make exceptions to their "do no harm" requirement, every day, within their profession, where that code actually does apply. And, they should.
The "do no harm" has no ethical effect in a non medical context, because this ethical requirement is for medical treatments, only, and for patients, only.
The acknowledged anti death penalty editors of The Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine agree. They write:

"Execution by lethal injection, even if it uses tools of intensive care such as intravenous tubing and beeping heart monitors, has the same relationship to medicine that an executioner's axe has to surgery."  ("Lethal Injection Is Not Humane", PLoS, 4/24/07)

The PLoS Medicine editors have made the same point many of us have been making - similar acts and similar equipment do not establish any equivalence or connection.
There is no connection between medicine and lethal injection, therefore there is no ethical prohibition for medical professionals to participate in executions.
To put it clearly: The execution of death row inmates is not equivalent or connected to the treatment of patients. 
Is this a mystery?

Obviously, execution is not a medical treatment, but a criminal justice sanction. The basis for medical treatment is to improve the plight of the patient, for which the medical profession provides obvious and daily exceptions. The basis for execution is to carry out a criminal justice sentence where death is the sanction. 

Justice, deterrence, retribution, just punishments, upholding the social contract, saving innocent life, etc.,  are all recognized as aspects of the death penalty, all dealing with the greater good.
Are murderers on death row willing participants? Of course. They willingly committed the crime and, therefore, willingly exposed themselves to the social contract of that jurisdiction.

Lethal injection is not a medical procedure. It is a criminal justice sanction authorized by law. Therefore, there is no ethical conflict with medical codes of conduct and medical personal participating in executions.

40,000 to 100,000 innocents die, every year, in the US because of medical misadventure or improper medical treatment. (1)
Do no harm? The doctor doth protest too much, methinks.
There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US since 1900.

In every state, there are hundreds or thousands of people trained for IV application of drugs or the taking of blood.  Even many hard core drug addicts are proficient in IV application.
There may be only 1 or 2 times where personnel error may have led to problems in the lethal injection process.  That is out of nearly 900 lethal injections in the US.
It appears that some 500-1000 innocent patients die, every year, in the US, due to some type of medical misadventure, with anesthesia. (1)
Do no harm? Glass house. Stones.

I am unaware of evidence that shows criminal justice professionals are more likely to commit some error in the lethal injection process than are medical professionals in IV application.
Furthermore, even with errors in lethal injection, those cases resulted in the death of the inmate - the intended outcome for the guilty murderer.
In the errors of medical professionals, we are speaking of a large number of deaths and injuries to innocent patients - the opposite of the intended outcome.

1)  see   "Deaths from Medical Misadventure"at
                  "Health Grades Quality Study: Patient Safety in American Hospitals, July 2004" 

originally written May, 2005. Updated as merited.
copyright 2005-2007
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa(at), 713-622-5491
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
Pro death penalty sites 


www(dot)  (Sweden)

Permission for distribution of this document is approved as long as it is distributed in its entirety, without changes, inclusive of this statement.