A ghost in the syringe?

execution table 01Reader Matt Holiday says that he sees a religion ghost in the following Reuters story by Carolyn Abate, which describes the problem that California state officials are having finding medical professionals who are willing to take part in the execution of convicted killer Michael Morales. Here is the final section of the story, which contains the direct quote in which Holiday says he sees a ghost:

Dr. Priscilla Ray, chairwoman of the American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, last week condemned the ruling requiring the anesthesiologist’s presence.

“The use of a physician’s clinical skill and judgment for purposes other than promoting an individual’s health and welfare undermines a basic ethical foundation of medicine — first do no harm,” she said. “Requiring physicians to be involved in executions violates their oath to protect lives.”

Holiday has a simple question: How many doctors have, in the face of what Pope John Paul II called the “culture of death,” actually taken the Hippocratic Oath in its traditional form or in a close translation thereof?

There are questions, of course, about the origins of that phrase “first do no harm.” Then again, there are those ancient lines that say: “To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death. Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion.”

UPDATE: Here is the latest on the case from the Los Angeles Times.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://meautemminui.blogspot.com jquinby

    I noodled around on this a little this morning (and posted a bit of a ramble on it). I turned up a version that is said to be in use at many medical schools here:


    I believe the closest analogous paragraph to the ‘deadly drug’ section above is as follows, though I’ll defer to expertise on the matter:

    I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

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  • Matt

    I must admit I had forgotten entirely about the first line of the ancient oath; I’d hope our modern doctors would not swear by Apollo, etc.!

    It does seem weird, though, this fastidiousness over execution at a time when the limits of medicine are being pushed with respect to euthanasia (including, unfortunately, the involuntary kind), and when there are virtually no limits on abortion. How does one determine which lives may be terminated, and why? I submit this is not a scientific question, but a religious (or philosophical) one — hence the ghost.

    This story is just another facet of what is fast becoming the greatest divide in our society. How do red/blue zip codes line up on the various different situations involving terminations (voluntary or otherwise)? And is there a correlation between the divide between absolute/transcendent and relative/humanist camps philosophically and the approach to handling these decisions [leading question ;-]?

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