Although virtually unnoticed in Columbus, Dr. Jonathan I. Groner, the Trauma Medical Director at Children’s Hospital, is spearheading an international debate on the role of U.S. doctors in carrying out prison executions by lethal injection. After being rejected by American medical journals, Groner’s article “Lethal Injection: A stain on the face of medicine” was published in the November 2, 2002 issue of the British Medical Journal. Groner’s article questions the ethics of U.S. doctors who willingly participate in the execution of inmates. The article also points out parallels between the government’s use of doctors to administer lethal injection and a similar procedure that was administered by doctors in a Nazi Germany “euthanasia” program.

Within days of publication, the French newspaper Le Figaro interviewed Groner about the article. “By entering the death chamber, not only do they [U.S. doctors] destroy their relationship with their own patients, but they take the world medical community hostage. Imagine if all the doctors refused, execution would stop in this country, unless a corp of medical executioners was created,” Groner told Le Figaro.

In 2001, all 65 executions in the U.S. were carried out through lethal injection and it is the sanctioned method in 36 of the 38 states that practice the death penalty. Ohio outlawed the electric chair and retired “Old Sparky” in 2001 after John Byrd requested death by execution to dramatize his claim of innocence.

Doctors do not face the same ethical dilemma in the countries of the European Union, where the death penalty is outlawed by treaty. Groner notes that the American Medical Association (AMA), the Lisbon Declaration of the World Medical Association and the Hippocratic Oath forbid doctors to participate in executions. In 1996, The AMA, the American Nurses Association, the American College of Physicians and the American Public Health Association issued a joint statement declaring, “When the health care profession serves in an execution under circumstances that mimic care, the healing purposes of health services and technology become distorted.”

“A surprising number of doctors are unaware of any ‘official’ moral or ethical objection to capital punishment. A recent survey showed that 41% of responding doctors would perform one of the eight actions disallowed by the American Medial Association and that 25% would perform at least five. Only 3% of respondents even knew that there were guidelines on the issue. In fact, doctors who were . . . members of the American Medical Association were more willing to perform disallowed actions than those who were never members,” Groner wrote.

The article’s account of Adolf Hitler’s doctor-directed lethal injection euthanasia program – code name “T-4” – that killed German citizens who were not “worthy” of life sparked a recent debate throughout Europe.

When contacted by the Free Press, Groner said news stories about his lethal injection article had appeared in Germany, Spain and Portugal as well as France, but, he added “There has not been a single article in a USA English-speaking paper to my knowledge.”

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