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Hypocrites or Hippocrates?

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Death penalty opponents are protesting the use of doctors in executing criminals convicted of capital crimes. Because of the medicinal way executions are carried out in our more civilized day, doctors are needed to assist the administration of the deadly chemical cocktail that sends the condemned on his way to His Maker. The doctors do not actually inject the drugs. The Department of Corrections is the direct administrator. The doctor’s role is to insure that there is little pain and suffering. The state doesn’t want to return “to more ‘archaic’ methods of execution,” as one doctor put it. Even so, the claim is being made that doctors are healers and should not stand in to assist the state in executions. “The role of a doctor is to heal and to preserve life, whenever there is the possibility of doing so,” Dr. Arthur Zitrin argued. Zitrin, who calls himself a death penalty “absolutionist,” is professor emeritus at the New York University School of Medicine.

I applaud Dr. Zitrin on this point. Doctors should be healers. We’re told that’s what they train to be, and there are many good doctors who actually heal patients while practicing medicine today. Doctors should not be called on to assist in killing people, even those who deserve to die.

There was a time when the state employed executioners. It was their job to kill those who were sentenced to death, either by firing squad, hanging, or poisonous gas. An execution should not be a pleasant experience. Stoning, the Bible’s preferred method, was not instantaneous, and it hurt a lot. Executions were also carried out by hanging (Deut. 21:22–23). As far as I can tell, there was no hired state executioner. Witnesses who testified at trial were to participate in the execution (Deut. 13:9; 17:7).

So Dr. Zitrin and his supporters make a good case of keeping doctors from assisting the state in killing those who deserve to die. Activists say doctors who participate in executions violate the provision in the Hippocratic Oath which stipulates the following:

I will use my power to help the sick to the best of my ability and judgment; I will abstain from harming or wrongdoing any man by it.

I will not give a fatal draught (drugs) to anyone if I am asked, nor will I suggest any such thing. Neither will I give a woman means to procure an abortion.[1]

It’s that last phrase that seems to get lost in the high ideals of the anti-death-penalty forces: “Neither will I give a woman means to procure an abortion.” As far as I know, medical schools do not require medical students to learn how to administer or assist putting criminals to death. But they do teach doctors how to perform abortions for profit, lots of abortions—since 1973, more than 60 million abortions in the United States alone.

If the healing arts should not be used to kill men and women who have committed some unspeakable crime, then how in the world can anyone propose that doctors should be permitted to open clinics so that pre-born babies can be killed under the monikers of medical obligation and freedom of choice? Dr. Zitrin needs to look a little deeper to see where the real atrocities are taking place under the watchful care, sanction, and protection of the state. Abortion is our nation’s biggest killer, and it’s legal.

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