Death Row Doctor: Why I Take Part in Executions | Op-Docs


My role in execution
is one of end of life. Instead of a carcinoma,
that individual’s dying of a court order. But he’s still dying. We’re trained do no
harm, preserve life whenever there’s any
hope of doing so, the concept of the Hippocratic
oath and everything we stand for medicine. Medical organizations
have strongly worded opposition to physician
participation in execution. And believe me I’ve read
them, and I understand them. I just don’t agree with them. I’ve almost had two different
careers, an emergency medicine career and a
correctional medicine career. If you were to ask me during
residency or even shortly after residency that I’d be
working in a jail or prison, I would’ve thought you crazy. There’s just no way. But indeed that’s where
my career path took me. [radio chatter] Shortly after I had
started working corrections, particularly when our
company started growing, I got a phone call from the
Department of Corrections about helping out with the
execution process, which here in Georgia is
lethal injection. Sometimes in life you have to
take the bad with the good, and as part of being
a leader, as part of being a totality of
a health care solution. I called him back and I said,
well, let me go witness one. Watching a heart
monitor, I kept looking for panels to try to
defibrillate the individual. It was almost like a reflex. The one thought I had
over and over again was if it were me there
or a family member, would I want somebody
like me there? And the answer was yes. Absolutely. I would want somebody
like me there if I had a family member who
had done something horrible and ended up on death row. I’m not a advocate for
capital punishment. If it’s ultimately
arbitrary and very expensive and not necessary. But that’s not — that doesn’t impact
what I do and why I do it. [Archival recording]
“… five minutes elapsed time. Stand by for the
doctors are now preparing to enter the
execution chambers to check for life signs. One of the physicians is now
in the process of doing this. The first physician is
still in the process of checking for life signs.” We first started
doing it, we approached is just a matter of
fact of providing health care in a
correctional environment. As our involvement
became public, I realized that this
was as controversial an issue as it was. When local media leaked out
that I was the physician that was participating in
the execution process, I was contacted
by advocacy groups to stop my participation. They oftentimes would protest
in both my home and my office and send me emails, get
on me with social media, and even challenge my license. Their goal is to hopefully
end capital punishment by stopping the people
who perform execution and lethal
injection services. [news broadcast]
“Travis Hittson is scheduled to be executed tonight at 7:00. The 45-year-old
former Navy crewman was convicted of killing
fellow sailor Conway Utterbeck in April 1992. According to
court documents — “ Quite frankly I’d love
to hang up my cleats and not do this anymore. As long as there’s a need
and as long as they’re going to continue to perform
executions in Georgia, then I think those
individuals on death row deserve to have a
physician present at the time of their death. [crowd singing Amazing Grace] All right. Perception is reality. If most people believe
in capital punishment, that’s our reality today. The medicalizition
of execution I think does impact
public perception. Does that make us more
comfortable with capital punishment? Probably.

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