Dr. Joseph Antognini : A Campaign Against Dr. Death

Dr. Joseph Antognini : A Campaign Against Dr. Death January 11, 2024


Early this morning, I sent the letter below to the Medical Board of California regarding Dr. Joseph Antognini.  If you are as appalled as I am that a medical professional (in clear violation of the admonition to “do no harm”) is out here getting paid (thousands upon thousands of dollars) by state governments to defend their execution protocols, I urge you to do the same.  There is ample evidence below (included in my complaint below contacts) to include in your complaint.  The Medical Board of California can be reached in the following ways:

Central Complaint Unit


+Dr. Antognini also serves as an Emeritus Professor of Anesthesiology at UC, Davis Health.  It is also appropriate to send complaints to his bosses, who can be reached at:


Dr. David Lubarsky, UC, Davis Health CEO


Dr. Coleen Clancy, UC, Davis Health Associate Vice Chancellor (call 530-754-0254)


Dr. Susan Murin, Dean, UC, Davis Medical School (call 916-734-4110)






Medical Board of California:


With regards to capital punishment in the United States, Sacramento, California anesthesiologist and University of California, Davis Health Emeritus Medical Professor Dr. Joseph Antognini might be the unrivaled, Dr. Death.  For years, Dr. Antognini has repeatedly testified in proceeding after proceeding that the various manifestations of execution methods used by states are perfectly safe and relatively painless.  Of course, such testimony is a general violation of the Hippocratic Oath’s generally understood mandate to, “do no harm.”  But, even further than that, it is a clear violation of the guidelines of The American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics and The American Board of Anesthesiology, Inc’s guidelines regarding capital punishment:


Opinion 9.7.3 on Capital Punishment in The American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics clearly states,


An individual’s opinion on capital punishment is the personal moral decision of the individual. However, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, a physician must not participate in a legally authorized execution. 


The opinion goes on to define participation as falling into “one or more of the following categories.”  Though there are a variety of categories listed, those relevant to Dr. Joseph Antognini include:


(b) Would assist, supervise, or contribute to the ability of another individual to directly cause the death of the condemned. 


(c) Could automatically cause an execution to be carried out on a condemned prisoner. 


(h) Attending or observing an execution as a physician. 


(i) Rendering of technical advice regarding execution. 


The opinion goes to include a variety of “actions that do not constitute physician participation in execution.”  None of these actions excuse the grave ethical offenses of Dr. Joseph Antognini.


(source https://code-medical-ethics.ama-assn.org/ethics-opinions/capital-punishment)


The American Board of Anesthesiology, Inc. has guidelines with regard to the ethical practice of anesthesiology.  The most pertinent line of their guidelines is simple,


The American Board of Anesthesiology, Inc., like the American Medical Association, believes strongly that physicians should not be involved in capital punishment.


As an Anesthesiologist, Dr. Joseph Antognini has absolutely no business participating in the promotion or maintenance of the capital punishment process.


(source https://www.theaba.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Capital_Punishment.pdf)


As a result, Dr. Joseph Antognini’s actions are also a clear violation of various manifestations of the California Medical Board’s standard of patient care that require professional conduct as deemed professional by the current norms of the profession.


Through his affiliation with the University of California, Davis Health, Dr. Antognini has repeatedly used his stature to make a significant amount of money.  If his fees haven’t changed since 2020, Dr. Antognini makes $400 an hour, $2,000 for a deposition, $4,000 per day in court and $2,000 per travel day (Isaac Arnsdorf, ProPublica, 2020, https://www.propublica.org/article/inside-trump-and-barrs-last-minute-killing-spree ).


A declared Roman Catholic, Dr. Antognini claims to have no moral qualms with bolstering various state’s ability to make sure the killing continues.  I can assure you that the Pope won’t be testifying for any state trying to execute people anytime soon.


Dr. Joseph Antognini is willing to set aside both professional standards and his proclaimed faith if the price is right.


Just a few weeks ago, I encountered Dr. Antognini at a hearing for the new nitrogen hypoxia protocol in Alabama.  There is an absurdity to his testimony and actions that day that I want to share.  But before I do, here is an assortment of quotes from articles about Dr. Antognini’s unprofessional and unprincipled efforts…to get paid…while making sure the death penalty continues.


In 2018, Dr. Joseph Antognini testified for the State of Missouri against Russell Bucklew’s efforts to be executed by nitrogen gas:



“Dr. Joseph Antognini testified it (nitrogen hypoxia) might actually cause more suffering than a phenobarbital injection. He also wrote the mask might leak and potentially endanger the execution team.”


-Pat Pratt, Columbia Daily Tribune




In 2019, Dr. Joseph Antognini testified for the State of Arkansas and their efforts to continue executing prisoners by their lethal injection protocol:



“Dr. Joseph Antognini, an anesthesiologist with the University of California-Davis Medical Center, was then called to testify. He said that he has handled about 10,000 cases of anesthesia over the years. In the past, Antognini said he used midazolam to induce patients for general anesthesia, but no longer uses the drug for that purpose because newer and better drugs have been released.


He testified that the dose used by Arkansas would keep an inmate unable to feel pain.

‘It’s my opinion that the drug midazolam at 500 milligrams administered intravenously would render an inmate insensate, unconscious and insensate to a noxouis stimuli or unable to perceive pain that might occur or arise from other drugs or stimuli,’ Antognini said.


Most of the times Antognini has used midazolam, he said, has been in low doses as a sedative to calm patients before surgery.”


-Michael Hibblen, KUAR




In 2020, Dr. Joseph Antognini testified for the United States Federal Government’s efforts to continue their execution spree:



“BOP’s second expert witness was a medical doctor: retired California anesthesiologist Joseph F. Antognini. Antognini has said he personally opposes the death penalty as a Catholic. But he also said he believes states have a right to his advice, comparing it to criminal defendants’ right to a lawyer.


Antognini has not addressed how he squares his testimony supporting executions with his Hippocratic oath. He did raise ethical considerations when he was asked to compare lethal injection to poison gas (a comparison between methods, like the one Lindsley made). ‘Recommending one method of execution over another, I guess that’s an ethical issue for me,’ he said in a deposition.


Antognini’s rare position as a doctor vouching for lethal injection has made him a valuable witness in capital cases, including a Missouri case that later reached the Supreme Court. Antognini charges $400 an hour, $2,000 for a deposition, $4,000 per day in court and $2,000 per travel day.”


-Isaac Arnsdorf, ProPublica, 2020




In 2022, Dr. Joseph Antognini testified on behalf of the State of Oklahoma and their efforts to keep killing people by lethal injection (he even described attending an execution):



“An anesthesiologist and professor at the University of California, Davis, Dr. Joseph Antognini is perhaps best known for lending his expertise to President Donald Trump’s Justice Department during its federal execution spree (2020-2021), arguing that executing two people with Covid-19 would not heighten their risk of suffering.  More recently, he attended the execution of Donald Grant.”


“The Food and Drug Administration label for midazolam noted that it could be used ‘intravenously for the induction of general anesthesia before the administration of other anesthetic agents.’  Despite this language, Antognini pointed to the FDA label as evidence that midazolam could be used on its own to anesthetize a person for lethal injection.”


“Nevertheless, Antognini testified that Grant’s execution had gone smoothly.”


-Liliana Segura, The Intercept, 2022




Missouri.  Arkansas.  The Federal Government. Oklahoma.  Amongst various others unnamed.  Now, Alabama…and the State of Alabama’s attempt to use the untested method of nitrogen hypoxia.


In 2018 (Missouri), Dr. Joseph Antognini argued against nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution by arguing that it could endanger the execution team (which in this case would include me as Kenny Smith’s spiritual advisor in Alabama).  Just a few weeks ago, I heard Dr. Antognini talk about how safe the protocol for Alabama’s nitrogen hypoxia execution would be.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  I was sitting there listening to a doctor (and self-proclaimed follower of Jesus…) seem to not only devalue the life of someone facing execution but also everybody else in the room who will be there with them.  It seems there isn’t much that this man won’t change his mind about if the price is right.


Incredulous, I walked out into the hallway to take a breath.  The doors swung open, and I listened to one of the chief figures on the Alabama Attorney General’s team excitedly talk to Dr. Joseph Antognini about how great his testimony was.  Then, I heard her ask Dr. Antognini if he would like to meet the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections.  He responded with glee.  I’d never seen a professional act like this.  You would think he would at least keep this kind of behavior private.


It seems that money will cause people to do strange things…including turning their back on both their profession and their God.


In clear violation of a plethora of professional medical standards, Dr. Joseph Antognini has given paid professional medical testimony for numerous states to advance their execution protocols (including witnessing and analyzing an execution for the State of Oklahoma).  These gross violations of his professional responsibilities should lead to the immediate revocation of his license to practice medicine in the State of California, the revocation of his affiliation with the University of California, Davis and the revocation of his membership in all relevant professional societies.



The Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood


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