AMA: Ethically Challenged

According to Adam Wilson, writing for The Olympian, Dr. Marc Stern, the top physician in the Washington State Department of Corrections, has resigned because of ethical concerns surrounding the use of Department employees to prepare prisoners for execution.

Dr. Stern’s decision to resign was reached in part due to the positions of the American Medical Association and the Society of Correctional Physicians, both of which “oppose physician involvement in executions,” and, according to Dr. Stern, “…say physicians should not supervise somebody who is involved in executions.”

This is the very same American Medical Association whose CEJA Report H A-92, states “According to Opinion 2.01 of the Council [on Ethical and Judicial Affairs], ‘[t]he Principles of Medical Ethics of the AMA do not prohibit a physician from performing an abortion in accordance with good medical practice and under circumstances that do not violate the law.’ ”

Let me make sure I have this straight, because I’m struggling to understand the ethical reasoning involved: assisting in the execution of a convicted murderer is unethical, but  snuffing out the life of an unborn child by performing an abortion is, apparently, okay.

While it’s my opinion that an actual human being with human rights exists from the moment of conception, I can understand that people of good will differ on this point. The AMA, however, places no restrictions on abortion with their position, other than that the procedure should conform to “good medical practice” and “not violate the law.” There are no strictures against late term abortions or abortions performed when the fetus may be viable or any conditions that the abortion be performed in a manner so as to be humane to the fetus.

It disturbs me that the AMA’s governing body for ethics has ceded the decision as to what is ethical in regards to abortion to technology (i.e., good medical practice), and politicians. Ethics panels exist to balance the advances of technology with the moral concerns of society; politicians can consistently be trusted only to act in their own self-interests.

The AMA’s failure to take a position on abortion that might offend even the most extreme viewpoints has brought us to a place where they object to involving themselves in the execution of the guilty, but condone the execution of the innocent. This hypocrisy is staggering and in my mind casts doubt on the AMA’s ability to set logical and reasonable ethical guidelines for its members.

Cross posted at It’s Only Words