Breach of Trust

Physician Participation in Executions in the United States

This report documents that physicians continue to be involved in executions, in violation of ethical and professional codes of conduct. This involvement is often mandated by state law and specified in departmental regulations about execution procedures. Even when state laws are vague about requiring physician participation, our research indicates that in practice, physicians are often directly involved in the execution process. As more states attempt to create the appearance of humane, sterile or painless executions, lawmakers and corrections officials may look to physicians to apply their medical skills for this purpose. But execution is not a medical procedure, and is not within the scope of medical practice. Physicians are committed to humanity and the relief of suffering; they are entrusted by society to work for the benefit of their patients and the public. This trust is shattered when medical skills are used to facilitate state executions.