Joan M. LeGraw
Michael A. Grodin

Boston University School of Law Working Paper 02-09


Since the advent of lethal injection as a method of execution there has been an increasing escalation of executions in the United States. While most health professions have issued position statements that officially denounce the participation of their members, the actual involvement of health professionals in executions has increased. We found that guidelines regarding the limits or ethical parameters of physician participation in executions by lethal injection have been ignored by state legislatures, have been ineffective in influencing public opinion, and have been largely unenforced because professional associations have neither the power to revoke a health professional's license nor the ability to prevent its members from violating its guidelines. In addition, there are broader ethical implications in the use of an overdose of drugs to effectuate the death penalty and simply refusing to participate does not address such issues. Lethal injection execution is a violation of medical ethics because it utilizes medical skills and knowledge to give judicial homicide the appearance of painless clinical competence and humanity, which in turn has insulated such executions from constitutional scrutiny and public attack. We maintain that, because all other methods have routinely been acknowledged to be painful and cruel, without lethal injection, the death penalty in the United States would be unlikely to survive. Therefore, the complicity of the health professions in this continued violation of human rights extends beyond the actual participation of licensed practitioners.

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Michael A. Grodin Contact Information
Professor, Health Law Department
School of Public Health
715 Albany St T-3w
Boston, MA 02118
(617) 638-4626

Joan M. LeGraw Contact Information

Director, Health Professionals Involvement in the Death Penalty Project
at Global Lawyers and Physicians: Working Together for Human Rights

SSRN Site:

Presentation and Publication Information:

24 Human Rights Quarterly 328-423 (May 2002, No. 2)

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