Doctors See Way to Cut Suffering in Executions (2006)

A flood of lawsuits challenging lethal injection as cruel and unusual has stalled executions in some states and may prompt others to abandon them. And a Supreme Court ruling last week made it easier for death-row prisoners to file such suits. At the core of the issue is a debate about which matters more, the comfort of prisoners or that of the people who watch them die. A major obstacle to change is that alternative methods of lethal injection, though they might be easier on inmates, would almost certainly be harder on witnesses and executioners. With a different approach, death would take longer and might involve jerking movements that the prisoner would not feel but that would be unpleasant for others to watch. “Policy makers have historically considered the needs of witnesses in devising protocols” for execution, said Dr. Mark Dershwitz, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Massachusetts who has testified about the drugs used in lethal injection. “There’s an innumerably long list of medications that can be given to cause someone to die,” Dr. Dershwitz said. But, he added, the emphasis on ensuring a speedy death may have prevented states from considering all the options. Deborah W. Denno, a Fordham University law professor who is an expert on execution methods, said speculation about whether any states would change their procedures was “the question of the moment.” Professor Denno said some states might tinker with their procedures just enough to avoid court cases. And Dr. Jay Chapman, a forensic pathologist who created the nation’s first lethal injection protocol, in Oklahoma in 1977, said that were he to...

Pediatric Neurosurgeons Criticize Dutch Euthanasia on Babies with Spina Bifida (2008)

Dutch paediatric neurosurgeon Rob de Jong, in collaboration with peers from several other countries, has expressed his concern at the practice in the Netherlands of carrying out euthanasia on some babies born with spina bifida in an article in the medical journal Child’s Nervous System. According to a report by Radio Netherlands Worldwide, the lives of a small number of babies are terminated each year by doctors who, together with the parents, believe the infant is experiencing unbearable suffering and will continue to suffer in this way in the future. In his article “Deliberate Termination of Life of Newborns with Spina Bifida, a Critical Reappraisal”, Dr. de Jong argues that it is difficult to prove that the suffering of a baby or infant is or will remain unbearable, and cites a number of cases of physicians who, in retrospect, have been forced to acknowledge that their initial diagnosis was incorrect. Dr. de Jong says he bases his case on medical evidence, not on ethical arguments that have normally been at the centre of nearly all discussions about euthanasia. The Dutch Paediatric Association’s guidelines for the active termination of life, that is, the performance of euthanasia on babies and infants, known as the Groningen Protocol, states that: the diagnosis and prognosis must be certain; hopeless and unbearable suffering must be present; the diagnosis, prognosis and unbearable suffering must be confirmed by at least one independent doctor; both parents must give informed consent; the procedure must be performed in accordance with the accepted medical standard. Dr. de Jong contends that such a medical diagnosis/prognosis cannot be given with the requisite certainty...

Eugenics Silently Returns to Germany (2012)

I read a very disturbing article titled “New prenatal test is bringing eugenics back to Germany,” and I could not help but think of the famous quote from American philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This month a new prenatal blood test for Down syndrome created by biotech business LifeCodexx was launched in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, and it very possibly may lead to the repeat of mainstream eugenics in German-speaking Europe. The new Prenatal Test is “targeted exclusively toward women in their 12th week of pregnancy and beyond who are at an increased risk” of having a child born with Down syndrome, and the reality of this test is that it places unborn children with Down syndrome at a higher risk of abortion. “In the near future, the PrenaTest will also be able to identify other chromosomal mutations such as trisomy 13 and 18,” said Dr. Michael Lutz, CEO of LifeCodexx, and the goal seems to be a society free of perceived culturally mandated “imperfections.” Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, very strongly criticized the test by stating: “The issue here is artificial selection or eugenics, pure and simple. Is the infernal term ‘life unworthy of life’ going to become reality again?” The German Down Syndrome Information Centre sums up the issue well and put out this statement: “People with trisomy 21 will, in the long run, be the first people with a different genetic makeup to disappear from our society, and with the tacit approval of the majority.” Eugenic history in German-speaking Europe is recent and very well...

Botched Execution in Arizona Causing Death Penalty Debate Used Assisted Suicide Drug (2014)

Comment: If death penalty opponents are so critical of the drugs used in lethal injection executions because of the length of time and suffering involved, why don’t they just ask the assisted suicide supporters for their alleged “humane” drug regimen? One likely answer is that the assisted suicides group don’t want any of their procedures, arguments, etc. tainted by the death penalty controversy. For example many years ago, I called in to a big radio program where the featured person was a death penalty opponent who insisted that capital punishment was intrinsically wrong. She made the case that state-sanctioned killing hurts our society by lessening our respect for the lives of troubled and usually poor and minority people. She went on to add that that lethal injections were inhumane and that if we did not oppose capital punishment, we all become de facto murderers. She also cited the AMA’s opposition to doctors’ participating in capital punishment (See AMA’ position statement at: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion206.page?). I called in and asked what was her group’s position on legalizing assisted suicide. She said that her group did not have a position on this. I pressed further, citing that her reasons for opposing lethal overdose executions were equally valid for opposing assisted suicide. And, in addition, I mentioned the fact that some convicts have actually even asked that no one appeal their case because they WANTED to die while groups like hers continued to push for appeals. Obviously, these convicts also thought their lives were not worth living and wanted to escape further suffering. The speaker then became angry and refused to answer, saying that...