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Don't make doctors executioners

An insidious aberration is being added to the American lunge back toward capital punishment. Some state legislatures would, in effect, turn physicians into executioners by specifying that the condemned be killed by the injection of drugs. Part of the reasoning is that this "humane" method of execution might make restoration of the death penalty more acceptable. The echoes of Hitler's perversion of medicine for state purposes are too abhorrent to be ignored.

None of the laws so far apparently requires that a physician personally administer the lethal drugs. But recent writers in the New England Journal of Medicine are so strongly opposed to the trend that they urge doctors to thwart it by not cooperating in any way, either directly or through subordinates.

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The public will no doubt trust individual doctors to be guided by their consciences in this matter. But citizens cannot evade their own responsibility to help keep the actions of their elected representatives in line with political morality. It is a contradiction in ethics and morality to use the medical profession, dedicated to preserving human life, for the purpose of taking human life.

The oath of Hippocrates, honored by physicians for more than 2,000 years, specifically says: "I will give no deadly drug to any, though it be asked of me. . . ." No arm of the state in America should place doctors or any other medical personnel in the position of violating that oath.


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