Ben Buchwalter

Fixing Lethal Injections Leads to ‘Hippocratic Paradox’
January 10, 2010, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Crime and Justice, Mother Jones | Tags: , , ,

October 6, 2009

October saw a set of botched state execution that drew the institution of lethal injection into serious question. The most famous victim was Romell Broom, who was punctured 18 times over two hours as guards struggled to find a suitable vein for the poison. Finally, a judge intervened to stop the execution. Critics have said that such cases amount to cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of guards who are not qualified to perform medical procedures. But involving doctors brings up what one expert calls a “hippocratic paradox.” Instead of “do no harm” doctors are reportedly being asked to help end lives. Ohio State University professor of surgery Jonathan I. Groner broke it down for me:

Citing the “Hippocratic paradox” of state-sponsored executions, Groner notes that the guards administering Broom’s lethal injection were picked because they serve as volunteer emergency medical technicians. However, they do not have nearly as much experience with IVs as fully-trained medical personnel, he says. “Part of the Hippocratic paradox problem is matching the least experienced people with the most difficult patients,” he told Mother Jones. “You risk torturing the patient.”

This adds to the troubling shift toward the “medicalization of killing,” says Groner. And he worries that Strickland’s decision to determine alternative modes of lethal injection could blur the lines between medicine and execution even further. “The trap is that to get it done right, you need more expertise. And that means more medical involvement,” he said.


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