The medical community strongly opposes the use of medicine for executions. And yet, most states practicing lethal injections require a physician’s oversight. Because of this conflict, states go to great lengths to conceal the identities of participating medical personnel. But Dr. Carlo Musso has been public about his decade-plus long tenure on Georgia’s execution team.
The Sandman follows a doctor torn between the Hippocratic Oath and a commitment to provide what he calls “end of life care” within the correctional environment. And yet, Dr. Musso personally opposes the practice of capital punishment. This short documentary explores one doctor’s equivocation and justification as he grapples with his own moral conflict and asks audiences to consider how medicine might mask the violent nature of such a practice.
In recent years, a series of botched executions have highlighted the gruesome nature of lethal injections. As a long-time opponent to capital punishment, I found these events to be particularly difficult to digest. But, I had also held the belief that if our society were to practice the death penalty, lethal injection was the best option. As I read coverage of these incidents and the legal fallout, I became increasingly curious about the role of medicine in executions.
Researching “The Sandman” was an investigation. I spent months researching the intersection of medicine and executions, trying to see this issue from multiple perspectives. I found that each conversation with a journalist, lawyer or doctor, challenged my own preconceived notions about the nature of medicalized executions.
Dr. Musso was one of the very few participating physicians to speak publicly about his involvement. He first revealed his identity in a medical journal in 2005. Over the course of filming, we discussed the theoretical and moral implications of his role and I came to understand him to be a pragmatic man in an extraordinary position.
The line he often repeated, “If I had a family member on death row, I’d want someone like me there,” resonated on a practical level. His role is to prevent further pain throughout the execution process. And yet, his participation is a tacit endorsement of the practice he claims to oppose. I began to wonder, in what ways I and so many of us participate in systems we do not support, and what it takes to actually confront them.
My goal with “The Sandman” was to provoke questions, rather than prescribe answers. I hope it opens dialogue on the polarizing subject of capital punishment.
Lauren Knapp is a nonfiction storyteller working in documentary film, radio, television and 360. Her stories have been featured on the The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, NPR, PRI’s The World, The Atlantic, and TIME among others. Her first feature documentary Live From UB, follows the trajectory of Mongolia’s contemporary political and social transitions through the lens of its rock musicians. She directed it with the support of a Fulbright Fellowship in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
She’s focused her lens on social issues ranging from capital punishment to lockdown drills to fair chance employment. Her current project, Passage, documents four women’s experience of transitioning into motherhood with a focus on how access to resources and support affect her experience.
When she’s not in the field or edit room, she’s in the classroom. She has taught at Georgetown University, Northwestern University, and George Mason University.
Lauren holds a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Grinnell College and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Documentary Film and Video from Stanford University.