Dr Noose? Spare us

Doctors want no part in hangings

By G.S. Mudur
  • Published 25.10.17

New Delhi: India's largest private body of doctors has taken the stand that physicians should not be asked to participate in executions, iterating a resolution passed by a global confederation of medical associations five years ago.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has asked the country's medical regulators to revise conduct codes to prevent doctors from playing any role in executions, in line with a 2012 resolution passed by the World Medical Association.

Under the existing protocol, prison doctors are expected to attend hangings to examine the convicts for signs of life and to pronounce death.

"No doctor should be present during the process of execution. This would be a violation of medical ethics and should be deemed professional misconduct," Krishan Kumar Aggarwal, senior cardiologist and IMA national president, said. He, however, clarified that a doctor may be requested to examine a body after an execution for certification of death.

In 2012, the World Medical Association had said in a resolution that it was "unethical for physicians to participate in capital punishment, in any way, or during any step of the execution process, including its planning and the instruction and/or training of persons to perform executions".

Aggarwal said the IMA was a member of the world body and, therefore, a signatory to all its policies and resolutions.

"We believe the (2012) resolution should be adopted in India and we have written to the Medical Council of India on this," he told The Telegraph.

A team of doctors from the Mumbai-based Forum for Medical Ethics had earlier taken the matter up with the National Human Rights Commission in 1994, arguing against doctors' presence at executions.

"It's good the IMA is finally taking a position on this," said Amar Jesani, physician and editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics who had been among the doctors who had met the rights panel.

What if a doctor examines a just-hanged convict at the execution site and finds him still alive, Jesani asked. "Should the doctor say, 'Continue with the hanging'? How can a doctor ever say that?"

Aggarwal said the IMA had decided to take the matter up after Bangladeshi representatives complained at a conference of medical associations in Japan last month that doctors in their country had been forced to participate in executions.

Many countries have witnessed debate on the subject, with some doctors suggesting that physicians can help reduce unnecessary suffering during executions.

A US-based anaesthesiologist had a decade ago argued in a medical journal that "if state administration of capital punishment is legal and ongoing, humane methods of executions should be sought and applied".

Such arguments had emerged after medical experts in 2005 claimed that the anaesthesia methods used in lethal-injection executions, practised in America, were "flawed" and may have led to "unnecessary suffering".

A Cornell Law School website tracking the death penalty worldwide lists four hangings in India since 2004: Yakub Memon (1993 Bombay blasts), Afzal Guru (2001 Parliament attack), Ajmal Kasab ((2008 Mumbai attacks) and Calcutta security guard Dhananjoy Chatterjee (rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl).