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Physician Participation in Capital Punishment

Oscar W. Clarke, MD; John Glasson, MD; Allison M. August, MD; Charles H. Epps Jr, MD; Victoria N. Ruff, MD; Craig H. Kliger, MD; Charles W. Plows, MD; George T. Wilkins Jr, MD; James H. Cosgriff Jr, MD; David Orentlicher, MD, JD; Kristen A. Halkola
JAMA. 1993;270(3):365-368. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510030089040.
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BACKGROUND  The question of physician participation in capital punishment has a long history.1 Physicians have helped develop execution methods that were more humane than conventional methods. The most famous example is that of Dr Joseph Guillotin, who developed a mechanism for execution that he believed to be far more humane and civilized than other contemporary methods.2 However, other physicians have disagreed with any physician participation in the death penalty.1 The Oath of Hippocrates has historically been interpreted as prohibiting physician participation in executions. The Oath states in part:I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anyone when asked to do so nor will I suggest such a course.1During the 1970s, states began to consider use of lethal injection when executing condemned prisoners.


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The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
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