University of Minnesota

International Council of Nurses; Torture, Death Penalty and Participation by Nurses in Executions (1998).





ICN Position:

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) supports the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights1. Furthermore we declare :

  • The nurse’s primary responsibility is to those people who require nursing care.
  • Nurses have the duty to provide the highest possible level of care to victims of cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment.
  • The nurse shall not voluntarily participate in any deliberate infliction of physical or mental suffering. 
  • The nurse’s responsibility to a prisoner sentenced to death continues until execution. 
  • ICN considers the death penalty to be the ultimate form of inhumanity.
  • Participation by nurses, either directly or indirectly, in the preparation for and the implementation of executions is a violation of nursing’s ethical code. 

ICN advocates that its member national nurses’ associations (NNAs) lobby for abolition of the death penalty. ICN further advocates that NNAs develop mechanisms to ensure nurses have access to confidential advice and support in caring for prisoners sentenced to death or subjected to torture.

ICN advocates that all levels of nursing education curricula include the following: recognition of human rights issues and violations, such as torture and death penalty; awareness of the use of medical technology for executions; and recognition of the nurse’s right to refuse participation in executions.


The ICN Code for Nurses 2 states that …the fundamental responsibility of the nurse is to promote health, prevent illness, to restore health and to alleviate suffering.

Violations of human rights are pervasive and scientific advances have brought about sophisticated forms of torture. Nurses are sometimes called upon to  perform physical examinations before prisoners’ interrogation and torture, to attend torture sessions in order to provide care, and/or to treat the physical effects of torture.Efforts to regulate and ‘humanise’ the death penalty or even to ‘medicalise’ it have led to contradictory legal and ethical problems.

1 United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, Adopted 10 December 1948.
2 International Council of Nurses, Code for Nurses, Geneva, ICN, Adopted 1973, Reaffirmed in 1989

Adopted in 1998

Replaces previous ICN Positions “Nurses and Torture”, adopted 1989 and “Death penalty and participation by nurses in execution” adopted 1989. 

Related ICN Positions:· Nurses and human rights· The nurse's role in the care  of detainees and prisoners· Rights of children· Nuclear war

The International Council of Nurses is a federation of more than 120 national nurses' associations representing the millions of nurses worldwide. Operated by nurses for nurses, ICN is the international voice of nursing and works to ensure quality care for all and sound health policies globally.




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