NJSNA believes that the administration of the lethal injection as means for capital punishment does not fall within the scope of nursing practice, philosophy, and professional ethics. Such action is contrary to the New Jersey Nursing Practice Act and the ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses.
Explanation of Issue
Nurses are committed to respecting the human condition because of profound regard for humanity. This principle applies to themselves, to people receiving care, and to other people who share in the provision of care, as well as to humanity in general. Individual differences in background, customs, attitudes and beliefs influence nursing practice only insofar as they represent factors that the nurses must understand, consider and respect in offering care based on personal needs and in maintaining the individual’s self-respect and dignity. Respect for the worth and dignity of the individual human being extends throughout the entire life cycle, from birth to death, as encompassed in the health-illness continuum.
While public policy is rooted in complex political processes that presumably evolve toward an end goal that is determined to be in the public interest, the ethical practice of nursing is rooted in the rational analysis and justification of moral principles that guide nursing action (Chinn, 1979).
The social contract between the nurse and the client is fundamentally grounded in a non-consequentialist ethical principle concerning the avoidance of killing, that is, to do no harm.
While capital punishment may be practiced with the intent that it serves the public interest, its presumable effect of decreasing heinous crime has not been demonstrated. Capital punishment remains, regardless, a form of killing.
While there are gradations of pain inflicted in the process of killing and while lethal injections may inflict less pain in the process of killing, it is the position of the NJSNA that a nurse administering such an injection would be in violation of the Nursing Practice Act of the State of New Jersey and the Code for Nurses of the American Nurses’ Association.
The Nursing Practice Act of New Jersey, (1998) clearly defines the practice of nursing as, "diagnosing and treating human responses to actual or potential physical and emotional health problems through…the provision of care supportive to or restorative of life and well being"…NJSA 45:11- 23, (p.1).
The ANA Code for Nurses, (1985) clearly states that the nurse, "provides services with respect for human dignity…unrestricted by personal attributes or the nature of health problems." (P.1)
Participation in the killing of a human being by lethal injection is unequivocally and distinctively in opposition to these basic philosophical and ethical tenets of the nursing profession.
In summary, while lethal injection as a form of capital punishment is being advanced as a more humane form of execution, NJSNA emphatically believes that participation by a nurse in any form of killing, however painless, is a blatant violation of the social contract between the nurse and the client, the Nursing Practice Act of the State of New Jersey and the Code for Nurses of the American Nurses’ Association.
American Medical Association (1996). Opinion of the Council on Ethics. Chicago: AMA
American Nurses Association (1985). ANA Code for Nurses with interpretative statements. Washington DC: American Nurses Publisher
American Nurses Association (1994). Position statement on nurses’ participation in capital punishment.
Amnesty International (1998). Lethal Injection: The medical technology of execution. London: AI Index: ACT 50/01/98
Chinn, P. (1979). Issues in lowering infant mortality: A call for ethical action, Advances in Nursing Science, April issue.
Gromer, J. (1998). Machines of Death. Popular Mechanics, 175 (1), 52-56.
Statutes and Regulation, Board of Nursing, New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and Division of Public Law and Safety, 1998.
The American College of Physicians, et al. (1994). Breach of trust: Physician participation in executions in the United States. Philadelphia
Welsh, J. (1998). The Medicine that Kills. The Lancet, 351 (91), 441.