"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Dust-Up Over Doctors

The problem I've got with some of the Catholic left when it comes to the death penalty is that they too often simply resort to cheap sloganeering. Take for example the issue of to what extent physicians should be involved with the execution process.

Mark Shea wants his readers to accept his decree that having a physician involved in the process is "weird." He links them to an article which attempts to compare physician involvement in the execution process in the U.S. with German physicians' complicity in Nazi atrocities. Yes, the old "reductio ad Hitlerum."

What has Mark and his buddies frothing? North Carolina's Supreme Court recently ruled that the state's medical board it overstepped its authority in threatening to sanction physicians who participate in the process of execution. The North Carolina board's position was the only one in the country absolutely forbidding physician participation in executions.

Let's look at some history: Executions used to be carried out by fairly plain methods: eletrocution, gas, hanging, firing squad, and the like. The process was a simple one where the jailers could easily carry out the physical motions that would cause the death of the inmate. The role of the physician would then be simply to verify that the death had occured, that is, that the inmate was clinically dead. It was easy for the physician to have a very limited role in the process.

Now, for all intents and purposes, the universal method of execution is lethal injection. Was this method introduced because the Godless government wanted to dehumanize the inmate; to make execution more efficient for a Nazi-like road to mass extermination?

Uh, no.

Lethal injection arose specifically because it is widely viewed as a more humane alternative to the other methods. In that regard, it has to be noted that in states where inmates are given a choice of methods, lethal injection has been chosen by nearly 100% of the condemned.

Now if we grant that capital punishment is morally permissible, and if, as it appears, lethal injection is the most humane method that has been devised, then why the hyperbole about involving a physician? Which is more humane to the condemned man: a physician ensuring that the process is carried out correctly and with minimal pain or that a ham-handed prison guard insert the IVs and ensure the proper dosage and delivery of the various drugs?

A physician no more violates the adage, "do no harm" in overseeing the correct application of lethal injection than he would if he personally had to kill in self defense, or kill an enemy in battle during a war. The state executes an inmate in the exercize of social self-defense, and the physician who assists in this process is not only not violating his oath, he is fulfilling it by helping to ensure that his fellow citizens are protected against the offender.

The North Carolina Supreme Court correctly ruled that a group of unelected physicians with a policy disagreement about capital punishment overstepped their authority in attempting essentially to ban executions in North Carolina by bullying physicians away from carrying out a statutorily-mandated role in ensuring the integrity of the execution process.

What's actually "weird" is that any Catholic would villify these physicians as comparable to Nazis, and foster contempt for a punishment that is not only lawful, but in accord with Catholic teachings.


Smiley said...

Personally if i had to be executed by the state, i would chose the guillotine.
This is a messy way to die. All the blood squirting out etc would leave all those around with horrible nightmares.
Leathal injection is too clinical too clean no drama. It makes the state forget that it is killing a person which it has no right to do.
I am no bleeding heart liberal, you do crime you pay the time, but no we cannot kill, that is a commandment.

dudleysharp said...

"Physicians & The State Execution of Murderers: No Ethical/Medical Dilemma"