NEW VOICES: American Board of Anesthesiologists Bars Participation in Executions

The American Board of Anesthesiologists (ABA), representing 40,000 members, recently ruled that it will revoke the certification of any member who participates in an execution by lethal injection. Most hospitals require board certification for their anesthesiologists.  According to the board secretary Mark Rockoff, the decision reflects the ABA's belief that anesthesiologists are "healers, not executioners."  Some states have recruited doctors, including anesthesiologists, to play a role in lethal injections.  While not taking a stance on capital punishment itself, the Board decision asserted that the participation in executions by anesthesiologists is unethical. Rockoff also cited patients' existing wariness of medical procedures as another reason for the decision: "When any of us go into surgery, it's a frightening time. If lethal injections are medicalized, it could make it look like operating rooms are like death chambers, that anesthesiology drugs are death drugs and anesthesiologists are executioners. That would all undermine public confidence in the medical profession."  Read the text of the ABA statement here.

California recently issued new guidelines for carrying out lethal injections, recommending a doctor's presence.  Maryland is working on a new protocol.  Ohio changed to a 1-drug protocol in 2009, while most states use a more complicated 3-drug protocol.  Washington state also recently adopted the 1-drug procedure. (R. Stein, "Group to censure physicians who play role in lethal injections," Washington Post, May 2, 2010).  See also Lethal Injections.