Saturday, 3 February 2007

Proposed execution protocol may create conflict with medical board

February 3, 2007 (2 articles)

North Carolina

Proposed execution protocol may create conflict with medical board

Doctor participation in capital punishment raises ethical issues


RALEIGH - State leaders will consider a new execution procedure next week
that requires a doctor's participation, but the proposal appears to conflict
with the state medical board's recent declaration that physicians who
actively take part in an execution violate medical ethics.

The proposed change in the state's "execution protocol" highlights a dilemma
that has effectively put executions in North Carolina on hold.

Last year, a federal judge agreed to let an execution proceed only after the
state assured him a physician and a registered nurse would be present to
ensure the inmate did not suffer pain as he was put to death by injection.

But last month, the N.C. Medical Board called a doctor's participation in
capital punishment "a departure from the ethics of the medical profession."

"In my view, their protocol ignores what the medical board did," said E.
Hardy Lewis, a Raleigh lawyer who represents death-row inmate Jerry Conner.
"They have just decided to ignore it."

State law requires that a doctor be present at executions, and that is
allowed by the N.C. Medical Board. But the board cautioned last month that a
"physician who engages in any verbal or physical activity ... that
facilitates the execution may be subject to disciplinary action."

While trying to sort out that conflict, the state said in a federal lawsuit
challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection that a nurse and
medical technician - instead of a doctor - would monitor a condemned
inmates' vital signs. The state said a doctor would only observe the
execution and later sign a death certificate.

That change was apparently designed to satisfy both the medical board and
the demands of the federal court. But Judge Donald Stephens of Wake Superior
Court, citing a law written in 1909, said the governor and the Council of
State must approve such a change.

Stephens put three executions on hold until the council did so. Marcus
Reymond Robinson was scheduled to die on Jan. 26, James Edward Thomas was
slated to be put to death yesterday, and James Adolph Campbell was to die
Feb. 9. No other executions for the 164 other inmates on death row have been
scheduled. The council - made up of the governor, lieutenant governor and
the elected heads of eight state government agencies - will consider the new
protocol Tuesday.

But instead of approving the process involving a nurse and a medical
technician, the revised protocol on their agenda requires a physician to
monitor "the essential body functions of the condemned inmate" and notify
the warden if the inmate shows signs of "undue pain and suffering."

"It still says that the doctor shall monitor the essential bodily functions
and according to the medical board ruling ... a doctor can't participate in
executions," said David Neal, a defense attorney with several clients on
death row. "So I don't see how it will pass muster."

Gov. Mike Easley's office had previously referred all questions about the
execution process to the state attorney general's office, and in a statement
released late yesterday, the governor clearly appeared ready to be rid of
the issue.

"This protocol will be presented Tuesday to the Council of State and they
will determine if it is consistent with current law as enacted by the
General Assembly," Easley said. "Then, this issue will go back to the courts
for them to determine how it will go forward."


Source : Associated Press

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