Friday, April 15, 2005

MedEthics: Executions not as "Humane" as we thought

A recent letter in this week's Lancet demonstrates that victims of capital punishment might not be receiving enough anesthesia.

Unlike in medical applications, anesthesia in executions has not been subjected to clinical trials or government regulation, nor have the practitioners received even basic training to do this," said Dr. David A. Lubarsky, one of the researchers. " This caused us to wonder whether anesthesia methodology in lethal injection might be adequate."

In a study of post-mortem toxicology results from 49 executions in Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, they found in 43 cases the concentrations of thiopental in the blood were lower than required for common surgery. In 21 of those cases they found the concentrations "consistent with awareness" -- in other words, the inmates could have been awake.
The ethical dilemma stems from the fact that doctors may not participate in executions, leaving undertrained or untrained technicians to fulfill the role. Would it be ethical for a doctor to participate in lessening a condemned man's pain? Or would this merely be window dressing on an already barbaric practice. Is it progress if a cannibal uses a knife and fork?

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