July 23, 2018

I last wrote about SB 593, the bill to repeal the death penalty in NH, on March 12, 2018. At that time SB 593 had passed the NH Senate by a vote of 14-10. It then passed the House by a vote of 223 to 116. Governor Sununu had expressed reservations relative to repeal of the death penalty, leading to his expected veto of SB 593 on June 21, 2018. The bill will now be subject to an override vote on September 13, 2018.

Let me briefly review the many reasons why NH should abolish the death penalty, and then encourage all physicians and others of like mind to contact your Senator and Representative(s) to discuss SB 593 and to encourage their vote to override Governor Sununu’s veto of SB 593. It is likely that there may be the necessary votes to override the veto in the House. But clearly, we need to find at least two Senators to reverse their vote so that a two-thirds vote in the Senate can overcome the governor’s veto.

In my blog posts in March, I outlined many of the arguments supporting repeal of the death penalty. Let me review those arguments here and add others that hopefully are persuasive on this human rights issue.

The AMA has opposed physicians participating in the process of administering the death penalty since July 1980. Physicians are required by our ethical principles to provide “competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human rights”, and as such we cannot participate in the process of killing prisoners or anyone.

As I mentioned in previous blog posts, I have been concerned about violence throughout my career as a psychiatrist. There is clearly too much violence in our country and the world at large. As a society, we ought to focus on reducing violence rather than condoning it. Violence, of course, comes in many forms, from bullying in our schools, sexual, physical or emotional abuse in our homes, schools or workplaces, or murder in our homes or communities.  As I have stated previously, we don’t punish bullies by bullying them, we don’t punish abusers by abusing them, and we ought not punish murderers by murdering them. Furthermore, there have already been more than 150 exonerations of persons convicted and sentenced to death. And we all know that justice is far from equal, with it being much more likely that those sentenced to death are poor or of color or likely both.

New Hampshire is the only state in New England that still has the death penalty. It is far more costly than life with parole, and NH could find much more appropriate uses of our scarce financial resources than implementing the death penalty for an unfairly selected minority of convicted murderers.

I have also emphasized the important aspect of the death penalty as a process that impairs healing rather than fostering whatever closure or healing is possible. The emotional wounds of murder of a loved one are prolonged for years (usually a decade or more) by having a death penalty process that takes forever to wind its way through the appeals that are necessary and appropriate for implementation of state sanctioned killing. A sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole ends the legal process and allows then the process of healing of the wounds of murder for those affected to take place.

If you agree that ending the death penalty in NH and substituting a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of repeal is appropriate for NH, please consider contacting both your state representative(s) and Senator from your district to urge a vote to override the Governor’s veto of SB 593. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

As always, I appreciate feedback and conversation about this and any topics covered in my blog.  Please feel free to contact me at lenkorn.md@gmail.com.


Leonard Korn, MD
NHMS President