Medical ethics, cultural values, and physician participation in lethal injection

Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1995;23(1):129-34.


Capital punishment by lethal injection has been discussed in the literature, but there has been no consideration of the sociocultural foundations of the ethical issues related to medical aspects of capital punishment. Lethal injection represents the inappropriate medicalization of a complex social issue whereby medical skills and procedures are used in ways that contradict established medical practice. Although physicians are socialized to their healing role during medical education and training, their behavior is influenced by social and cultural values that both precede and coexist with their professional life. Because of this dynamic interplay between professional and sociocultural values, physicians can neither exempt themselves from societal debate by merely invoking professional ethics, nor can they define their professional role exclusively in terms of societal values that potentially diminish personal and collective professional responsibility. It is essential that physicians have a broad historical perspective on the development of the profession's standards and values in order to deal effectively with present and future complex ethical issues.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Capital Punishment*
  • Culture*
  • Education, Medical
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Physician's Role*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Social Values
  • United States