The Role of State Medical Boards in Regulating Physician Participation in Executions
Journal of Medical Licensure and Discipline, Vol. 95, No. 3, 2009
14 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2010
Date Written: January 15, 2010
The recent increase in calls for physician participation in lethal injection executions is likely to place a spotlight on state medical boards, the only entities empowered to discipline doctors for ethical violations. This article begins by recounting the history of physician participation in lethal injection executions, as well as the opposition of most medical professional organizations to the practice. The current state of the law suggests, however, that the role of state medical boards is quite circumscribed, at least in the majority of states with death penalty statutes that appear to contemplate some level of physician participation in executions. In order to further determine the legality of medical board action, a comprehensive study was conducted of the statutes and regulations governing state medical boards in all 50 states. The study reveals that only a handful of states – and only seven death-penalty states – explicitly incorporate the AMA’s ethical guidelines into their own state ethical codes. The article concludes by suggesting that, where doctors who participate in executions are doing so in order to relieve pain and suffering, it is not clear that a state medical board should intervene even in the rare instance when it would be legally possible to do so.
Keywords: physician participation, death penalty, AMA, capital punishment, doctors, medical ethics, state medical boards
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