• Article

Killing me softly

Can the prevention of suffering justify the involvement of doctors in capital punishment?

Ninety four per cent of the world's executions occur in four countries. China executes the most people, at least 1000 and maybe as many as 8000 a year. Iran and Saudi Arabia are next, with around 100. The United States is fourth. In 2006 we killed 53 convicted murderers, down from 60 in 2005. In the 30 years since 1977, when the US Supreme Court moratorium on capital punishment ended, about 1000 Americans have been executed, a third of them in Texas, the rest in 33 other states.
Putting someone to death is not easy or pretty. As Elizabeth Weil pointed out in a recent New York Times Magazine article on the subject, each time a new method of capital punishment has been introduced it has been because the then current method was found to be barbaric and uncivilised. Death by hanging can lead to a dangling, kicking, prolonged struggle or a gruesome rope beheading. Firing squads are hard to control and sometimes inaccurate, leaving the victims alive. Gas …


Kamerow, D. (2007). Killing me softly. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 334, 454. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39135.671817.59