WMA policy statement on participation of doctors in executions should be implemented

1:14 pm Health Care, Medicine

Dr KK Aggarwal

Should doctors participate in state executions or capital punishments? This is a very controversial issue in medical ethics.

Doctors are required to monitor vital signs during the process of execution (hanging in case of India) and look for signs of life and then pronounce death. This is against medical ethics.

Opposing the participation of doctors, the World Medical Association (WMA) came out with a “Resolution on physician participation in capital punishment” in 1981 and amended in 2008. The resolution states as follows

“RESOLVED, that it is unethical for physicians to participate in capital punishment, in any way, or during any step of the execution process, including its planning and the instruction and/or training of persons to perform executions.

The World Medical Association

REQUESTS firmly its constituent members to advise all physicians that any participation in capital punishment as stated above is unethical.

URGES its constituent members to lobby actively national governments and legislators against any participation of physicians in capital punishment”

In its general assembly in 2012, the WMA again passed a resolution reaffirming its prohibition of physician participation in capital punishment.

“There is universal agreement that physicians must not participate in executions because such participation is incompatible with the physician’s role as healer. The use of a physician’s knowledge and clinical skill for purposes other than promoting health, wellbeing and welfare undermines a basic ethical foundation of medicine—first, do no harm.

As citizens, physicians have the right to form views about capital punishment based on their individual moral beliefs. As members of the medical profession, they must uphold the prohibition against participation in capital punishment.

Therefore, be it RESOLVED that:

· Physicians will not facilitate the importation or prescription of drugs for execution.

· The WMA reaffirms: “that it is unethical for physicians to participate in capital punishment, in any way, or during any step of the execution process, including its planning and the instruction and/or training of persons to perform executions”, and

· The WMA reaffirms: that physicians “will maintain the utmost respect for human life and will not use [my] medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat.”

The WMA Declaration of Geneva or the “Modern Hippocratic Oath”, first adopted in 1948 was recently amended in October 2017 at the annual general assembly in Chicago, USA. The revised version also states: “As a member of the medical profession:

· The health and well-being of my patient will be my first consideration;

· I will maintain the utmost respect for human life

· I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat”

This final version of the Declaration of Geneva has been accepted by all member national medical associations including the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

No doctor should be present during the process of execution. This is violation of medical ethics and is a professional misconduct.

The World Medical Association today has a membership of 112 national medical associations. IMA is a founder member of this world body. This makes India a signatory to all policies and resolutions adopted by the WMA. Hence, the WMA Resolution on Physician Participation in Capital Punishment should also be implemented in our country.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this write up are entirely my own.

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