Abolition of the Death Penalty

  • Date: Jan 01 1986
  • Policy Number: 8611

Key Words: Capital Punishment

The American Public Health Association,

Believing that State executions have a direct adverse effect on the public's health by tending to increase homicides and social disruption, and diminish society's respect for human life;1 and

Understanding that at least 25 innocent people have been executed in the United States since the turn of the twentieth century;2 and

Understanding that there is no method for terminating human life which is assuredly instantaneous or painless, and asserting that an interest in the health and well-being of the American public legitimately extends to the human condition of society's condemned;3,4 and

Believing capital punishment is cruel and produces severe psychological terror in those condemned to death, and has a negative influence on the psychological health of the public;5 and

Recognizing that adequate alternatives are available to punish offenders such as institutionalizing offenders for life in prison without provision for parole;6 and

Recognizing that empirical studies fail to establish capital punishment as a deterrent to crime;7,8 and

Believing that absent a deterrent effect, the death penalty is mere vengeance and that the State cannot sanction the deliberate execution of individuals to accomplish revenge consistent with the underlying principles of the Bill of Rights to preserve and protect human dignity;9,10 and

Observing that executions are arbitrary moral judgments guided by passions and prejudice, and are not rationally related to the heinousness of the crime or the culpability of the criminal;1,11,12 and

Noting further that capital punishment has impacted discriminatorily on minorities and the poor; and

Concluding that procedural safeguards and legal due process standards cannot eliminate arbitrary and capricious imposition of the death sentence and cannot redress the fundamental human rights violations;13,14 therefore

  1. Calls upon the legislative branches at national and state levels to abolish capital punishment;
  2. Urges executive officials to use their power to prevent the imposition or execution of the death sentence; and
  3. Encourages professional organizations of health workers to work for the abolition of capital punishment and to discourage their members from participating in or contributing to the carrying out of the death penalty.


  1. Weisbuch JB: The public health effects of the death penalty. J Health Policy, September 1984;305-311.
  2. Bedau A, Radelet M: Miscarriages of Justice in Potentially Capital Cases. Washington, DC: American Civil Liberties Union, 1986.
  3. That Execution Wasn't Painless. Corrections Digest 1982;13:26.
  4. Annas GJ: Killing with kindness: Why the FDA need not certify drugs for execution safe and effective. (Public Health and the Law) Am J Public Health 1985;75:1096.
  5. Gotliebs G: On Capital Punishment. ACLU Documents XXXII 7-9. In: Schwed R: Abolition and Capital Punishment. Appendix A. New York: AMS Press, 1983.
  6. Cromwell P, Killinger P: The Evolution of Corrections in America. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co, 1973.
  7. Bowers W: Legal Homicide: Death as Punishment in America. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1984.
  8. Baldus D, Cole J: A comparison of the work of Thorsten Sellin and Issac Ehrlich on the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Yale L J 1975;85:170.
  9. Barnhill D: Administering the death penalty. Washington & Lee L Rev 1982;39-101, 102 n.9.
  10. Furman v. Georgia, 82 Sup. Ct. 2736, 1972.
  11. Ziesel J: Race bias in the administration of the death penalty: The Florida experience. Harvard L Rev 1981;95:456.
  12. Reidel M: Discrimination in the imposition of the death penalty: A comparison of the characteristics of offenders sentenced pre-Furman and post-Furman. Temple L Q 1976;49:261.
  13. Schwed R: Abolition and Capital Punishment. New York: AMS Press, 1983.
  14. Ever P: Eighth amendment — The death penalty. J Crim Law & Criminol 1980;71:538.

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