Human Exceptionalism

If Doctors Should Not Execute, They Should Not Euthanize

There is a big furor in California over whether doctors should participate in executions. Many in bioethics and the media claim that it is unethical for doctors to cooperate in executions, since killing is not a medical act.

I have great sympathy for that view. But if that is true, it should go without saying that doctors should not participate in the intentional killing of patients because they are seriously ill or disabled (or as in the Netherlands, deeply depressed).

Oh, the issue is consent? What if a condemned prisoner wants to be executed rather than spend a lifetime in jail? I have heard anti-death penalty types actually argue that then, physician-hastened death would be fine.

Wrong. Killing is not a medical act. Doctors have no greater moral authority than anyone else, and no greater right to kill. If doctors should not execute, even though it is a consequence of a murderer’s actions after receiving abundant due process of law, they should not euthanize.

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