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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Ethical Responsibilities of Physicians: Capital Punishment in the 21st Century

Karen B. Rosenbaum, MD; William Connor Darby, MD; Robert Weinstock, MD

Psychiatric Annals


The United States is in the company of only 22 other countries with the death penalty.

The American Medical Association is among many medical professional organizations that prohibit the participation of physicians in the physical act of execution.

Despite these clear guidelines, debate remains regarding physician involvement in various aspects of death penalty cases.

This article outlines different positions that physicians and specifically forensic psychiatrists have taken on this issue.

Our position is that given the overwhelming secondary duty related to their physician role - specifically to do no harm - forensic psychiatrists should not use their expertise if they believe their involvement will be used for the primary purpose of obtaining a death penalty. 

Of necessity, forensic evaluations can do harm. But when something as extreme as death is concerned, the secondary medical duties preclude directly facilitating a person's death. [Psychiatr Ann. 2015;45(12):615 - 621.]

Source: healio.com, December 11, 2015

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