Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Could You Kill a Man?

In California yesterday, the execution of convicted murderer and rapist Michael Morales was indefinitely postponed on the very day Morales was to die. A February 14th court order seeking to ensure there is no cruel and unusual punishment required that two anesthesiologists be present to administer the lethal injection. But the doctors scheduled to be present refused to perform the injection, saying that it would be unethical.

The American Medical Association code of ethics clearly states as the first principle: A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights. That doesn’t mean a physician can’t administer a lethal injection but I suspect most anesthesiologists would feel quite uncomfortable performing an execution.

Besides, I don’t think the doctors even need to site medical ethics. Most religious and ethical systems condemn the act of killing (i.e the Sixth Commandment). Which brings up an interesting question:

How many of us could be an executioner?

Of course, we already are executioners. When our government (state or federal) executes a criminal, they are doing so in our name. When we elect representative who support the death penalty, we are made complicit in the killings.

From afar, it’s pretty easy to be comfortable with that fact. It feels like justice. But could we each personally inject the chemicals? If it is really justice (and not, say, revenge or rage) shouldn’t we all be comfortable with being the executioner?

I’m willing to bet a lot of supporters of the death penalty would reconsider their stance if placed in the position the two California anesthesiologists found themselves in. And I wish more people would think about that when they embrace the death penalty.


Blogger Rob Jackson said...

It doesn't feel like Justice to me. Rather, it feels like retribution.

Unfortunately, I have a sick feeling that many death penalty supporters would be fine throwing the switch but I hope you're right.

1:14 PM  
Anonymous middleman said...

I have no problems with having a death penalty, but I couldn't do it personally.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous DBL said...

You should read Gene Wolfe's fantasy series with an executioner as the hero - it will bend your mind to say the least.

There's a reason that executioners exist - and always have - most people aren't cut out to be executioners, just like most people aren't cut out to be surgeons. Could you have your arms up to your elbows in someone's thorasic cavity, holding their life in your hands? How different is that from pulling the trap on the guillotine? In each case, the squeamish, the faint-at-heart, are simply not suited for the task at hand. It has nothing to do with moral sensibility.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


I see where you're going with that, but I think the analogy is off. Surgeons save people's lives while executioners take them. Besides, there is little "gross" about injecting a man with lethal chemicals.

No moral code says it's wrong to SAVE a life, but most say it's wrong to take one. Being uncomfortable with the taking of life is not really a matter of nerves, it's a matter of morality.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Joe said...

The only instances that I could see myself killing someone without feeling remoarse would be in self-defense or to save other innocent people. The death penalty in normal cases doesn't fulfill either self-defense or saving innocent people so I could not participate in it myself.

3:28 AM  

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