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Execution Chambers

Many ADPSR members are architects. We believe that the vast majority of our colleagues entered our field, as we did, in order to make the world better and more beautiful. We did not imagine that we would ever be asked to design a building where people would be killed.  And indeed, these projects are very rare, and few architects are asked to design them. But execution chamber projects do happen: California built a new execution chamber in 2010. Its design was created just like any other recent project, with a CAD model and typical architectural details.

However, executions in the United States are not that rare. We have executed almost 2,000 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.[1] In 2011, the U.S. ranked fifth in the world in the number of people executed, behind only China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq.[2]

In proposing this Ethics Code amendment, ADPSR was inspired by the position of the American Medical Association, whose members refuse to participate in executions. Prior to the amendment of AMA’s Ethics Code, doctors were regular participants in executions, ostensibly to ensure that the person about to die would not suffer a cruel level of pain. However, AMA’s Ethics Code now includes Opinion 2.06:

An individual’s opinion on capital punishment is the personal moral decision of the individual. A physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution.

The American Nurses Association strongly agrees, specifically including nurses who work in correctional environments and may even be requested by their patients to attend during execution proceedings:

The ANA is opposed to all forms of participation by nurses in capital punishment, by whatever means, whether under civil or military legal authority. Participation in capital punishment is inconsistent with the ethical precepts of justice, nonmaleficence, and beneficence, and the values and goals of the nursing profession. The ethical principle of nonmaleficence requires that nurses act in such a way as to prevent harm, not to inflict it. … Nurses who are invited to witness an execution must not represent themselves as a nurse nor assume any nursing role in that execution.[3]

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), whose members are most frequently asked to participate in executions, agreed with AMA in 2006 with their "Statement on Physician Nonparticipation in Legally Authorized Executions.” Other medical bodies in agreement include the Society of Correctional Physicians, National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and the American Public Health Association.

In the same vein, many of the companies that produce the drugs used for lethal injections have refused to sell their products to U.S. State governments that intend to use them for killing people.[4] These companies say that it is their obligation under human rights to respect every individual’s right to life, and not to help those who intend to kill others, even if that is their client. Because the number of drugs approved for use in executions is very small, these companies have been able to work collectively to sharply restrict the killing conducted by their clients.

The professions of psychology and psychiatry have taken a similar collective stand against the practice of torture. The 1985 joint statement against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment issued by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association “condemns torture wherever it occurs”. The American Psychological Association Ethics Committee furthered this with their statement titled “No Defense to Torture,” which includes:

Psychologists are absolutely prohibited from knowingly planning, designing, participating in or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques...

Any direct or indirect participation in any act of torture or other forms of cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment or punishment by psychologists is strictly prohibited. There are no exceptions.

AMA is also on record regarding professional participation in torture, with Ethics Opinion 2.067:

Torture refers to the deliberate, systematic, or wanton administration of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatments or punishments during imprisonment or detainment.

Physicians must oppose and must not participate in torture for any reason. Participation in torture includes, but is not limited to, providing or withholding any services, substances, or knowledge to facilitate the practice of torture. Physicians must not be present when torture is used or threatened.

The World Medical Association (AMA’s international affiliation) made a similar statement in the 1975 Declaration of Tokyo, which refers specifically to conditions of incarceration.

All these professions have realized that allowing individual members to “follow their conscience” in the area of killing, torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is an abrogation of their collective responsibility. It is not enough to say “I didn’t do it” when a fellow professional uses the unique skills and capacities of your profession to kill, torture, or degrade someone else. In order to retain professional dignity and ethical stature the profession as a whole must agree not to do it.

We believe that the architectural profession faces the same question confronting these drug companies, doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists about what our commitment to helping and not harming people really means. As AMA, WMA and the two APAs have demonstrated, this question is not an individual moral choice, but a collective ethical responsibility. ADPSR believes that architects are ready to make a similar commitment to the wellbeing of people who are in our care insofar as they are in our buildings: we will not participate in killing, torturing, or degrading you.

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/27/capital-punishment_n_1381652.html

[3] Nurses' Role in Capital Punishment, January 28, 2010: http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/Policy-Advocacy/Positions-and-Resolutions/ANAPositionStatements/Position-Statements-Alphabetically/prtetcptl14447.pdf

Image and photo: San Quentin LEthal Injection chamber. Source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation