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Execution plan condemned by international medical community

The BMA has expressed grave concerns over reports Vietnam is to restart executions by lethal injections.

Vivienne NathansonThe association has joined the Danish and German medical associations in stressing that no medicines or medical personnel should be used in executions.

It follows reports that executions involve unspecified drugs and medical expertise.

In a letter to Vietnam minister of health Nguyễn Thị Kim Tiến, the three associations outline their opposition to execution by lethal injections, which were due to recommence on June 27.

‘We are particularly concerned that executions may involve medical personnel, whose participation would be contrary to internationally accepted ethical principles, as articulated by the WMA [World Medical Association] resolution on physician involvement in capital punishment.

‘This states that it is unethical for doctors to participate in capital punishment in any way, or during any step of the execution process,’ the letter says.

The letter, signed by BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson (pictured above) adds: ‘In October 2012, the WMA reaffirmed this position and resolved that physicians will not facilitate the importation or prescription of drugs for execution.

‘The Ministry of Health’s reported role in researching and sourcing lethal drugs seems to indicate that doctors have had at least some involvement in facilitating the recommencement of executions in Vietnam.’


Potential for torture

The letter, also signed by Danish Medical Association president Mads Koch Hansen and German Medical Association president Frank Ulrich Montgomery, expresses concern about the three-drug protocol, which is used during lethal injection executions.

The first drug, an anaesthetic, is intended to shut down the central nervous system and render the prisoner unconscious. The second paralyses the muscles and stops the person breathing while the third, usually potassium chloride, stops the heart.

In Vietnam, the particular drugs to be used are not set down in law.

The letter adds: ‘As you may be aware, the use of three drugs is controversial because of the potential for executions resulting in excruciating pain for the prisoner if insufficient anaesthetic is administered.

‘In the USA, where the three-drug protocol was originally pioneered, the Supreme Court has declared that the punishment would amount to medical torture if the first drug did not fully anaesthetise the prisoner.’

The medical associations urge the minister, who is a medical doctor, to ‘voice concerns about the three-drug protocol with your government colleagues and to ensure that the Ministry of Health ceases its involvement, as well as the involvement of all medical personnel, in executions’.