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Health

To Help, or at Least to Do No Harm

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The American Medical Association's guidelines tell doctors not to participate in any aspect of execution by lethal injection, whether it be administering the lethal drugs, declaring the prisoner dead, or merely monitoring vital signs. Yet a new survey shows that 41 percent of physicians questioned would willingly perform at least one of those proscribed actions. Only 3 percent of doctors surveyed knew the guidelines existed. Physician Peter Ubel of the Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Medical Center mailed a questionnaire to 1,000 doctors selected at random from the medical association's list of doctors. Out of 413 who replied, one-quarter said they were willing to carry out at least five of the eight actions disallowed by the American Medical Association's 1992 code of ethics. Fourteen percent were ready to perform all eight of them. Ubel was surprised, because he considers participation in the death penalty an act that falls outside the purview of the profession. "Doctors are supposed to be helping patients by preventing illness, curing illness, or relieving suffering during illness. They should not be killing people against their wishes," he says.

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