Ethics charges related to executions dropped

A Georgia internist said he didn't know his participation violated medical ethics.

By Andis Robeznieks — Posted Jan. 31, 2005

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Physicians and ethicists filing complaints with state medical boards against physicians who participate in executions are undaunted by the dismissal of two such complaints.

They are using the AMA Code of Ethics' prohibition against physician involvement in executions as a basis for filing the complaints, which charge the physicians with violating medical ethics.

The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure ruled Jan. 13 that there was no merit to the complaint that Gov. Ernie Fletcher, MD, violated medical ethics when he signed the death warrant for a convicted murderer. And Georgia's Composite State Board of Medical Examiners ruled Dec. 15, 2004 that Hothur V. Sanjeeva Rao, MD, did not violate the state's medical practice act when he inserted a catheter into a prisoner to start a lethal injection.

In an effort to block similar complaints, Georgia state Rep. Alan Powell introduced a bill to protect the license of any "medical professional" who participates in an execution.

Powell said the Dept. of Corrections asked him to sponsor the bill because complaints such as the one filed against Dr. Rao were making "a lot of physicians shaky" about participating in lethal injections.

Medical Assn. of Georgia Executive Director David Glass said the association hasn't taken a stand on the bill yet but added that legislation won't end medical society opposition to physician involvement in executions.

"To make a law that says it's legal is not going to make it ethical," Glass said.

Dr. Rao, a Jackson-based internist, said he was unaware of the ethical prohibitions on physician involvement in executions. "The government had approved the execution, so I thought it was OK," he said. "I was not even aware that I was going against a rule."

Jonathan I. Groner, MD, a Ohio pediatric surgeon who signed the complaint against Dr. Rao and helped organize the action against Dr. Fletcher, said the "rag-tag" coalition fighting to remove doctors from the execution chamber has made many people "uncomfortable" and will continue to do so.

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External links

Text of Georgia HB 57, which seeks to protect the licenses of medical professionals participating in state ordered executions (link)

AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs opinion on capital punishment (E-2.06) (link)

Statement by Medical Assn. of Georgia in 2000 to HB 1284, legislation that switched the state's method of execution from electrocution to lethal injection (link)

"Lethal injection: a stain on the face of medicine" extract, British Medical Journal, Nov. 2, 2002 (link)

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