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Letter on Dr. Pintz' Participation in an Execution

November 2, 2001

Urgent: Immediate Attention

John Romine, M.D.
President, New Mexico State Board of Medical Examiners
2nd Floor, Lamy Bldg.
491 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

Dear Dr. Romine,

I have learned from several sources that Dr. Fred Pintz, the Chief Medical Officer of the State of New Mexico, has flagrantly violated a principle implicit in the New Mexico Medical Practice Act by providing authorization for the acquisition and provision of the drugs to be used by the New Mexico Department of Corrections in the execution by lethal injection of Terry Clark, scheduled for next Tuesday, November 6th. Unless Dr. Pintz is willing to immediately revoke his order for providing these drugs and ensure that the drugs are returned to the pharmacy in the State Department of Health, I urge that there be an emergency suspension of his license to practice medicine with the plan to permanently revoke it.

In 1992, the American Medical Association (AMA) articulated a position condemning the participation of physicians in state executions. A 1994 joint statement by the AMA, the American College of Physicians, the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association, Health Care Professional Participation in Capital Punishment: Statement from Professional Societies Regarding Disciplinary Action, recommended that "state professional licensure and discipline boards treat participation in executions as grounds for active disciplinary proceedings, including license revocation." The New Mexico Medical Practice Act has been interpreted to defer to the AMA’s position on this issue, and thus, Dr. Pintz’s participation in this planned execution clearly violates the ethical and legal principles governing the Board of Medical Examiners.

Since the Medical Officer of the Department of Corrections left New Mexico several months ago and because the company contracted by the state to provide prison health services refused to be involved in the execution of Terry Clark, the Governor asked the Secretary of Health, Alex Valdez, to facilitate the provision of the drugs for the lethal injection. Valdez asked a state pharmacist to obtain the drugs but the pharmacist allegedly refused unless so ordered by a physician. Thus, Dr. Pintz, the Chief Medical Officer of New Mexico, was asked to facilitate the acquisition of the drugs so they could be provided to the Department of Corrections.

There have been 739 executions in the United States since 1976, including 574 by lethal injection. In most, if not all cases, physicians have been involved in one or more of the activities proscribed in the 1994 Joint Statement which include: "Prescribing, preparing, administering or supervising injection drugs ….prescribing or administering tranquilizers and other psychotropic agents and medications that are part of the execution procedure… monitoring vital signs… determining the point at which the individual has actually died…."

Such participation unequivocally contravenes the Oath of Hippocrates as well as the AMA Code of Ethics. Unless these important codes are acted upon, adherence to them will be dangerously low. The only way to accomplish this is to revoke the license of any physician who so participates in any way in the execution of a person. Dr. Pintz is the first such physician whose identity has come to my attention. Unless the New Mexico Board takes immediate action to suspend and revoke his license if he refuses to reverse the violent course of action which he has facilitated, the Board will have failed in its responsibility to uphold the legal and ethical principles under which it must operate.

Sincerely,

Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D.
Director
Public Citizen’s Health Research Group

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