Discussion: Should Forensic Psychology Professionals Conduct Work Related to the Death Penalty?

Discussion: Should Forensic Psychology Professionals Conduct Work Related to the Death Penalty?

The American Psychological Association (APA) has raised questions about whether psychologists should accept work related to the death penalty due to ethical guidelines. Although the APA has not restricted psychologists from working in this area, the ethical issues are important to explore. Forensic psychology professionals may encounter opportunities to conduct a variety of death penalty-related work tasks, such as mitigation and other defendant investigations, jury selection for the sentencing phase, expert witnesses or consultants for the prosecution or defense, and research studies that examine features of the death penalty and its effects. In most jurisdictions that enact the death penalty, local statutes require that the competency of the defendant must be examined by a licensed mental health professional prior to execution. Licensed forensic psychologists can conduct death penalty competency evaluations that explore whether a defendant is sufficiently competent to be executed. In order to conduct these tasks in accordance with ethical guidelines, the forensic psychology professional or forensic psychologist must be familiar with ethical issues relevant to the death penalty. Important first steps in exploring ethical issues are being aware of one’s empathy-bias regarding the death penalty and how ethical dilemmas might arise during death penalty work.

For your Discussion, you will explore issues surrounding the involvement of forensic psychology professionals in death penalty cases.

Briefly summarize your opinion about whether forensic psychology professionals are able to ethically conduct work related to the death penalty.

  • Explain whether your opinion changes based on the type of task, i.e., competency for execution evaluations, mitigation investigations, or research about the death penalty.
  • Support your opinion with references to the Learning Resources, ethical guidelines, and other scholarly resources.

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