This short documentary film follows Dr. Carlo Musso, a physician who has overseen Georgia’s lethal injection team since 2003. The Sandman explores Dr. Musso’s own moral equivocation and justification for providing “end of life care” within the correctional environment, while personally opposing capital punishment.

Synopsis: 

The medical community strongly opposes the use of medicine for executions. And yet, most states that practice 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 his equivocation and justification as he grapples with his own moral contradiction and asks audiences to consider how medicine might mask the violent nature of such a practice.

Director's Commentary: 

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.