Thursday, 18 January 2007
Andrea Weigl and Barbara Barrett, Staff Writers
The N.C. Medical Board might move a step closer today toward forbidding physicians from participating in executions.
The board's policy committee is expected to vote to adopt the new rule limiting a doctor to being an observer at an execution. The committee first approved the policy in July but it had to be published in the board's quarterly publication so that doctors across the state could offer commentary before final approval could be given.
Today's vote will send the matter to the full board, which could make it final as early as Thursday.
In part, the proposed policy states: "physician participation in capital punishment is a departure from the ethics of the medical profession."
State law requires a physician to be present at executions. In the course of litigation about the state's method of lethal injection, prison officials have revealed that a doctor and nurse stand in a room adjacent to the execution chamber where a heart monitor and a brain wave monitor are located.
Monitoring vital signs and brain-wave activity violates doctors' ethics code, according to the American Medical Association. Those revelations prompted a handful of North Carolina doctors to urge the board to take a position against physicians being involved in executions.
The medical board has never disciplined a doctor in connection with an execution.
Innocence panel to meet
The N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, the new state entity designed to exonerate innocent inmates, will have its first meeting today behind closed doors.
Paul Reinhartsen, who is acting as the commission's liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts, explained the committee would break up into subcommittees -- one to discuss who should be hired as executive director and another to decide how the commission will operate and screen cases for review.
North Carolina is the first state in the nation to create a panel to review innocence claims. Five of the eight members must agree the incarcerated felon deserves judicial review. Then a three-judge panel must unanimously agree that a defendant has presented "clear and convincing evidence" of innocence to be exonerated.
The commission is exempt from the state's public meeting laws. While personnel discussions are closed to the public, the commission has the discretion to allow the public to hear the discussion about how the commission will operate.
Reinhartsen said the commission's chairman, Superior Court Judge Quentin Sumner of Rocky Mount, did not respond to requests for comment about why the rules discussion would be closed and will not make himself available to the media after the meeting.
Sumner, through Reinhartsen, also declined to disclose which members are serving on which subcommittees.
The other commission members include Raleigh lawyer Wade M. Smith, Durham lawyer Charles L. Becton, Stanley Police Chief Heath Jenkins, Lincoln County Sheriff Barbara A. Pickens and Jacqueline Greenlee of Archdale, Rowan County District Attorney Bill Kenerly and Mel Chilton, executive director of the N.C. Victim Assistance Network.