Death Mandate

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Death Mandate

By | 2015-01-31T07:25:06+00:00 July 1, 2014|Philosophy, Politics|


Washington, DC – A controversial new mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, forces drug companies to sell drugs for use in lethal injections to state execution facilities. This comes in the wake of a controversial botched execution, which left an inmate at an Oklahoma penitentiary convulsing for over forty minutes before he died of a heart attack.

Over the past decade, the supply of drugs necessary for lethal injections has dried up as drug companies have refused sales to participating states. One such drug, sodium thiopental, has commonly been used to produce a medically induced coma, but American companies like Hospira have ceased manufacture of the drug in order to distance themselves from lethal cooperation. This has led various states to use experimental combinations of drugs, such as in the case of Clayton Lockett mentioned above.

Proponents of the new mandate say that it provides for a necessary good of society, and that states are free to regulate their use of the death penalty. One supporter said, “it is in the clear interest of the nation to have these drugs available for lethal injection. The states cannot fulfill their duty to protect the common good unless they have access to drugs like sodium thiopental.”

Opponents, however, excoriated the new mandate, alleging that it forces them into cooperation with ethically problematic methods of execution. One high ranking official at a major drug company affected by this ruling said that this was a crucial state overstep in the freedom of citizens and companies to make objections of conscience against controversial state-supported activity. “I sign off on every shipment that leaves this place,” he said. “How can I have their deaths on my hands?”

Proponents counter that such conscientious objection applies to individuals, maybe, but not companies. Following numerous lawsuits, it is a question likely to be resolved in court.

Opponents counter that their drugs are administered to heal, not to execute. As assistants to medical science, they counter, they are duty-bound to do no harm.

The controversial new mandate is set to take effect on July 1, 2014.

NB: The moral cooperation involved in providing drugs for executions is like that of providing contraceptives. I have made use of the analogy to expose faulty reasoning in the contraceptive mandate. The news story above is fictitious. To tease out the argument, I will make the parallelism explicit.

It is clear that drug manufacturers find (material) cooperation in lethal injection to be morally objectionable. Thus, as a company, they chose to withdraw.

First, companies are moral actors. It is not right to say that companies have no right to conscientious objection.

Second, individuals within companies are the only people really making decisions, even if these decisions are legally imputed to juridic persons. To force juridic persons to do something is to force physical persons to do something.

Third, the crucial similarity lies in the fact that neither lethal injections nor contraceptives are used as drugs properly constitutive of medicine. Medicine is ordered towards the health of the body. The concoction of drugs used in lethal injection is oriented toward killing. The concoction of drugs in contraception, as intended by the drug manufacturers and marketers and the vast majority of users, thwarts the reproductive system. Neither, therefore, is medicine. It is conceivable that drugs for lethal injection could be ordered towards the common good in concrete acts, but the argument is a fortiori in the case of contraception, inasmuch as contraception (as such drugs are typically formulated and used) cannot conceivably be ordered to the good of human society. But even given the counter-factual supposition that they could be so ordered, it still wouldn’t follow that they were health-giving acts.

Thus, there is no reason to think that medical professionals in particular owe people these things (i.e., in justice), even if one thinks that the whole owes people these things. In other words, we can distinguish two claims: the first being that medical professionals owe people certain contraceptives, and the second being that the state owes people certain contraceptives. But it does not follow that if the state owes people certain contraceptives that it is therefore the case that certain medical professionals do. Furthermore, according to the argument in the preceding paragraph, from neither type of actor–the state or medical professionals–should contraceptives be provided under the guise of medicine, for medicine they are not.

Image: Honore Daumier, Transnonain Street

About this Brother:

Br. John Sica, O.P.

Fr. John Sica was ordained to the priesthood in May 2016. He was born and raised on Long Island, NY. He attended Providence College, where he met the Dominican friars. After graduating in 2010 with a Bachelor’s in philosophy, he joined the Dominican Order. He made solemn vows in August 2014. On