On the evening of April 29, 2014, inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., convicted murderer Clayton D. Lockett was being put to death by lethal injection.  However, his vein that was allowing intravenous access collapsed before the full extent of the chemicals being used for the execution entered his body.  Eyewitnesses have reported that Mr. Lockett was still conscious 34 minutes after the execution began, and, at that point, the procedure was aborted.  Mr. Lockett eventually died of a heart attack one hour after the chemical infusion began.  There has been much discussion during the past week that Mr. Lockett, in effect, was tortured before dying.  See the NPR blog and CNN story.

New Hampshire is one of 32 states that currently allows for the death penalty to be applied.  In our state, it can only be used for cases of capital murder, and there currently is only one person on death row, Michael Addison, who was convicted in 2008 of the 2006 murder of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs.  Last month, House Bill 1170, which would repeal the death penalty and had already passed in the House, failed in a 12-12 vote in the Senate, thereby keeping capital punishment in effect in the Granite State.  See the Union Leader article.

The events in Oklahoma will be looked at for many issues, including the drugs that are used for lethal injection and what role, if any, physicians should or should not have in executions.  A closer look at New Hampshire’s death penalty law indicates that the statute does not specify which drugs are to be used.  The law also allows for hanging to be the method of execution in cases in which lethal injection can’t be used.

The American Medical Association, after the events in Oklahoma last week, has again emphasized the fact that the ethical obligations of physicians should essentially prohibit their involvement in capital punishment proceedings.  New Hampshire has not had a case of capital punishment since 1939, but renewed debate on this topic will likely occur for months, and years, to come.


Stuart J. Glassman, MD

Please send your questions or comments to president@nhms.org or post a comment below.


Curious. Does the AMA have a position statement regarding physicians on active duty in the military carrying a weapon with the implied intent that it may be used to take a life while under the employ and authority of the state? Ethical obligation resulting in (?enforceable?) prohibition of involvement in capital punishment proceedings is a threatening position to take from an organization that represents so very few physicians. Society and the AMA would have a far more objectional argument if the state was to force a physician's action to be involved in capital punishment against his or her objections.