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August 29, 2007

The moon-suit approach to hiding executioners' identity

As detailed in this AP article and this DPIC item, "[w]hen an inmate receives a lethal injection in Florida, a man in a purple moon suit leans over to listen for a heartbeat and feel for a pulse as witnesses watch and wait."  Why, you ask?:

The man is a doctor and the attire shields his identity — not just from the prisoner's family and friends, but from the American Medical Association. Its code of ethics bars members from participating in executions, as do those of the American Nurses Association, the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the Florida Medical Association.

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August 29, 2007 at 09:16 AM | Permalink


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This sort of reminds me of the "Scamble Suits" in "A Scanner Darkly."

But, let's face it, it is only a matter of time before someone finds out the executioner's identity, either via discovery in some litigation, or some leak. You can't keep these secrets for too long, and no state should pretend that they can.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 29, 2007 10:41:14 AM

Is the AMA have mandatory membership for all doctors in this country, or is it like the ABA? Can a doctor in Florida (or any other state, I suppose), participate in an execution without violating the code of ethics of an organization of which he is a member?

Posted by: Steve | Aug 29, 2007 11:43:06 AM

Here is one more example of a principle we should adopt across the board. No code promulgated by a private organization should ever be given the force of law by any organ of government.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 29, 2007 1:52:15 PM

Sounds good. In fact, I think that all codes of conduct should be inadmissible in malpractice actions. Too many professionals are getting away with murder by referring to them. The standard of care needs to be determined solely by the jury, and it is wrong for an expert to refer to a code promulgated by people that the jury cannot determine their credibility.

Whatever the case, in some malpractice actions, if an executioner does his job incorrectly, it will be necessary to depose him in the course of a civil suit. This is just a normal. Besides, the state can indemnify him for any damages he causes in the course of killing someone as part of his duties if he happens to kill them not according to the relevant standard of care for killers.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 29, 2007 1:57:07 PM

Kent, does that include codes promulgated by corporations through the American Legislative Exchange Council?

Posted by: George | Aug 29, 2007 2:18:14 PM

More on point, if it works for armed robbers, why not doctor killers?

Posted by: George | Aug 29, 2007 2:21:32 PM

Yes, George, that's right, armed robbers attacking innocent people and doctors carrying out society's will are analogous. This is precisely "the sort of nonsense only an intellectual could be believe".

Posted by: federalist | Aug 29, 2007 2:33:07 PM

A mask is a mask is a mask. Criminal intent or not is not the point.

Both are hiding because of the consequences. It would be irrational to expect armed robbers to shed the mask for ethical reasons, and kind of funny, but it is not irrational to expect more from the state.

Posted by: George | Aug 29, 2007 2:40:24 PM

To me, the problem is not that the executioner needs to hide his or her identity, but that the way our society is set up makes this necessary. Executions are a deterrent to murder, which means that they save innocent lives. If some organization's code of ethics doesn't recognize this, the problem is with the code of ethics, not the person who is breaking it.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Aug 29, 2007 2:49:45 PM

So, you are saying that ethical codes must always conform to the law.

Many states have concluded that their citizens are bad people and need to be killed. Therefore, you argue, as I see it, that it is per se ethnical to participate in as many killings as the state sees necessary to make its citizens fear the iron fist of the law.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 29, 2007 2:58:20 PM

William, I could and sometimes do make the same argument with many laws in general, like marijuana dangerous drug laws. The problem is not the pot, but the underground criminality and the jail and prison time because it is illegal. This is true for many drugs, with the penalties far more severe and harmful than the dangers inherent in the drugs.

It is also ironic that many conservatives who tout tradition as a basic principle criticize this tradition of the Hippocratic Oath. Very old.

If only the U.S. sterilization and Nazi doctors obeyed it.

No, the problem is not the Oath, but is death penalties that require doctor participation. All state legislatures have to do is go back to the firing squad or some such. A beheading probably wouldn't require any doctor confirmation of death at all, and just think of how happy it would make Nancy Grace and CourtTV viewers.

Win-win, and doctors could keep their Hippocratic Oath tradition.

Posted by: George | Aug 29, 2007 3:13:10 PM

Doctors are not required to be members of the AMA. My wife is a doctor and not a member.

Posted by: Steve E. | Aug 29, 2007 3:55:32 PM

Did she take the Hippocratic Oath, Steve?

Posted by: George | Aug 29, 2007 6:28:30 PM

There are a number of versions of the Hippocratic oath. This one on the PBS website does not appear to prohibit participation in an execution.


Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 29, 2007 7:43:10 PM

That's funny, as "does not appear" is void for vagueness. Indeed, the new version hardly equates abortion and euthanasia with executions, but it could appear to if one wanted it to. Are you agreeing with abortion and euthanasia now?

And what happened to originalism? Living, breathing documents are just fine when it suits a purpose. However, as the introduction makes clear, it appears the Hippocratic oath is just a goddamn piece of paper nowadays even though 100% of doctors take the oath upon graduation.

It's because of Hollywood and the breakdown of the family. And drugs. And rock 'n' roll, especially Elvis. And rap music. What's this world coming to? Dr. Josef Mengele donning the moon-suit?

Posted by: George | Aug 30, 2007 12:31:17 AM

Wow, George, just when I think you cannot possibly get more unhinged, you go and compare doctors who participate in executions with Mengele, a mass-torturer and killer. What's the matter, did the DailyKos ban you for not being part of the "reality based community"? Are you too much of a moonbat even for them? What's next, are we going to compare Rick Perry to Pol Pot?

Posted by: federalist | Aug 30, 2007 1:32:07 AM

Not that Dr. Mengele, silly. This one lives in the South, or Texas to be exact. He's not even German.

Posted by: George | Aug 30, 2007 1:43:01 AM

Whatever, George, the Mengele reference was beyond the pale.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 30, 2007 6:06:21 AM

"Beyond the pale" What is that supposed to mean? You don't like the ideas that George was referring to?

George, I will note that as a practical matter, any doctor that participates in such a killing knows that his career was already dead, or will be as soon as people find out about his night job. This really isn't a secret that can be kept.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 30, 2007 8:23:28 AM

"And what happened to originalism?" If you do a bit of digging, you'll see that there's quite a bit of disagreement over the original meaning of this document. Personally, I think Judwig Edelstein's hypothesis holds the most weight -- that the original oath was created by the Pythagoreans and did not represent widely held beliefs in the medical field. If you look at history, the views held in the original oath are dramatically out of line with the mores of the society from which it was generated.

Posted by: JustClerk | Aug 30, 2007 8:52:07 AM

Of course, there is nothing stopping a medical society from requiring its members to post on a wall a sign prominently stating that they will not take part in state-organized killing (unless they happen to be on reserve duty and it is a war and they are fired upon).

The first anesthesiologist that does not have this sign in their office gets sued when a killing gets botched.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 30, 2007 2:23:59 PM

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