"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights"
The British Medical Association has long campaigned against execution and was influential in ending the the practice in the UK. At our annual conference today the representative body passed policy to support ending the use of medicines produced by pharmaceutical companies in the process of execution. This motion was born out of the work of Reprieve, an organisation that campaigns for the rule of law and access to a fair trial, specifically their Stop the Lethal Injection Project:
The process of lethal injection often amounts to torture, as descibed by the US Supreme Court in Baze Vs Rees: “It is uncontested that filing proper dose of sodium thiopental that would render the prisoner unconscious, there is a substantial, constitutionally unacceptable risk of suffocation from the administration of pancuronium bromide and pain of potassium chloride”.
You can watch the legal arguments here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/202808-1
In 2010 the export of sodium thiopental for use in execution became illegal in the European Union. This has created a shortage which was caused problems in the USA, as reported in Scientific American. In response to this some states have developed new protocols for use in executing death row inmates. Notable the state of Missouri has developed a one-drug protocol using only the anaesthetic hypnotic propofol, which recently became notorious in the death of Michael Jackson. Propofol is a widely used medicine in anaesthesia, to put patients to sleep for operations, in the intensive care unit or after serious trauma. Its use in execution may affect supply and production and could potentially harm patient care.
Doctors should never be involved in the process of execution, however they may become involved unwittingly if working for pharmaceutical companies that produce medicines that may be used in execution. I would highly recommend you visit the Reprieve website and watch the video on the pharmaceutical hippocratic oath, featuring the BMA’s own Vivienne Nathanson:
“We dedicate our work to developing and distributing pharmaceuticals to the service of humanity; we will practice our profession with conscience and dignity; the right to health of the patient will be our first consideration; we condemn the use of any of our pharmaceuticals in the execution of human beings.”
The work on this has just begun and the BMA will be carrying this work forward with the WMA and Reprieve to ensure medicines produced to save lives are not used to end them.