Participation of Health Care Professionals in Death Penalty: An Empirical Exploration

Themes | Subthemes | Tags: Vulnerabilities and justice; Medical Ethics | Death penalty
Duration: November 2018 onwards
Team:  Nikita Surani (2018-19) and Sunita Sheel (2018 onwards); Amita Pitre (Consultant)
Funding support:  Forum for Medical Ethics Society
Product/s delivered and expected:

  • Organized a Round Table titled ‘Death Penalty in India: Legal, Ethical and Health Matters’ held in Pune on Feb 22, 2019.
  • A manuscript for publication in a peer reviewed journal based on a qualitative research [in progress]

Overview:  During the year 2018, India witnessed expansion of death penalty offences via amendments to Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. While most of the world is moving towards abolishment of death penalty such developments in India are intriguing. Currently Death Penalty is valid in India for crimes of Rape, Murder and Terrorist Activities. Both in India and around the world death penalty which is also referred to as capital punishment has been extensively discussed from the point of view of ethics, human rights, and justice to survivors or victims of concerned crimes/offences committed by the perpetrator. Amongst others, participation of health care professionals in death penalty at various stages of justice delivery including execution of a convict has been central to these debates over centuries. One of the central concerns amongst those who support proscription of participation of health care professionals in capital punishment is that it squarely conflicts with the very foundation to medicine repeatedly pronounced in various medical ethics codes including the oldest known, the Hippocratic oath of 5th century BC. However, literature vindicates the fact that throughout human history, health care professionals did participate in executions and it continues to date in different parts of the world, including India.

In the current context of expanding scope of offences subjected to death penalty, exploring the various questions we have asked earlier is warranted. Ideally speaking, it seems questioning constitutional validity of death penalty itself, in India is warranted. However, in the interim it would be of salience to get insights into health care professionals’ perspectives and attitudes about the death penalty and its role within the justice system, various aspects of their participation in capital punishment; as also on their role in improving prison standards including for health care in prison. This research has been a step towards this goal.

Goal: To undertake empirical investigation into perspectives and attitudes of students and practitioners of medical and health sciences about death penalty, participation of physicians in death penalty and their role in care provision to prisoners, especially those serving death sentence.

Past contributions:

  • Jesani A. Medicalisation of ‘legal’ killing: doctors’ participation in the death penalty. Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. New Series 1(4): 105-105. DOI:
  • Jesani A, Vadair A. The doctor’s dilemma: a Supreme Court judgment on death by hanging violates medical ethics. Humanscape March 1995;12-13.