University of Minnesota

International Council of Nurses, Statement on the Death Penalty and Participation by Nurses in Executions (1989; reviewed in 1991; replaced, 1998).


Main category: E1
Related categories: B7, E3

The ICN Code for Nurses (1) states that ... inherent in nursing is respect for life, dignity and the rights of man and further states that …the fundamental responsibility of the nurse is fourfold: to promote health, to prevent illness, to restore health and to alleviate suffering.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has always fully supported the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2) in which is established the right of the individual to life; and the right of the individual not to be subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (a right also upheld in the two ICN position statements: The nurse's role in safeguarding human rights (3) and The nurse's role in the care of detainees and prisoners (4).

Although many countries have abolished the death penalty, it still remains a legalised form of punishment in some countries. In a number of these countries, there has been an alarming increase in prisoners sentenced to death.

All efforts to regulate and humanise this form of punishment have thus far only created a vastly complicated, contradictory and ineffective legal and ethical morass.

ICN recognises the responsibility of the nurse to a prisoner sentenced to death by the state continues until the actual execution procedure is initiated; and considers participation by nurses, either directly or indirectly, in the immediate preparation for and the carrying out of state-authorised executions to be a violation of nursing's ethical code.

ICN thus calls on national nurses' associations to work for the abolishment of the death penalty in all countries still practising this form of punishment.

Adopted in 1989
Last reviewed in 1991

(1) International Council of Nurses, Code for Nurses, Geneva, ICN, Adopted 1973, Reaffirmed 1989

(2) United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, Adopted 10 December 1948

(3) International Council of Nurses, The Nurse's Role in Safeguarding Human Rights, Position Statement, Adopted 1983, Reviewed 1991

(4) International Council of Nurses, The Nurse's Role in the Care of Detainees and Prisoners, Position Statement, Adopted 1975, Reviewed 1985 and 1991


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