Kant postulated that humans as a species move progressively to a more moral state. In his words, “since the human race's natural end is to make steady cultural progress, its moral end is to be conceived as progressing toward the better. And this progress may well be occasionally interrupted, but it will never be broken off.”1 Capital punishment provides a profitable case study in moral progress. Because capital punishment has been medicalized by adopting lethal injection as its methodology (sometimes termed “killing with kindness”), and because medicalization is critical to capital punishment's continued popularity in America, it is a useful case study in American bioethics as well.2
Physicians can play many roles in capital punishment, including preparing the prisoner for execution, supervising the execution, and pronouncing death, most of which are considered unethical.3 A physician invented the guillotine, and physicians historically have regularly supervised executions, from the fictional naval surgeon who made sure the hanging of Melville's Billy Budd was “scientifically conducted”4 to the physician who pinned a white circle over Gary Gilmore's heart as a target for the firing squad.5 Another major role physicians can play is in determining which
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Publication information: Book title: American Bioethics: Crossing Human Rights and Health Law Boundaries. Contributors: George J. Annas - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 69.
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