Anesthesiologist Joel Zivot, MD, says he won't give Missouri officials an opinion on which execution method might result in the lowest risk of severe pain for a prisoner on death row because he feels ethically unable to compare the consequences of alternative forms of execution allowed under state law.
Missouri officials say that because prisoner Russell Bucklew didn't offer testimony to directly compare each method of execution and show that one "significantly reduces the risk of severe pain," the man hasn't met his burden to be put to death by something other than the state's standard lethal injection protocol.
Bucklew says he will suffer unnecessarily if he is put to death by the standard lethal-injection protocol. Instead, Bucklew is asking he be put to death by lethal gas because he believes it will cause him less suffering due to his rare medical condition, cavernous hemangioma. The condition causes blood-filled tumors to grow on his body. He claims once the drugs are administered, he will choke on his own blood for four minutes.
Now the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the case, Bucklew v. Precythe, including the question of whether the Eighth Amendment requires that an inmate prove an adequate alternative method of execution when challenging the state's method based on a rare and severe medical condition.
The AMA has filed an amicus brief in the case (PDF) before the high court. The brief (PDF) doesn't support either party. Instead, it offers justices background on the "applicable ethical principles" that guide physicians on capital punishment. It also confirms that "testimony used to determine which method of execution would reduce physical suffering would constitute physician participation in capital punishment and would be unethical."