Saturday, 24 February 2007

State officials seek execution accord; doctors stay quiet

State officials seek execution accord; doctors stay quiet
Medical board's decision put state's death penalty on hold
By Steve Hartsoe,
Associated Press

Raleigh | The medical board that effectively shut down executions in North Carolina is staying out of the legal and ethical debate triggered by its decision to punish doctors who participate in capital punishment.

"I don't have any additional comment other than the policy we have," Michael E. Norins said Thursday before the second day of a two-day board meeting, its first since adopting the policy in January.

Since the decision of the North Carolina Medical Board, four executions have been stayed and a judge has ordered the state's top government leaders to adopt a new execution protocol.

The council approved a plan that also requires a doctor to attend the executions.

Officials with the state Attorney General's Office and Department of Correction are now trying to work out a compromise with the medical board that also satisfies a federal judge's ruling requiring a doctor to attend executions.

Dena Konkel, a medical board spokeswoman, said the panel won't comment on those discussions or anything else beyond its adopted position.

"We have no comment relating to the issue," she said. "The board has spoken through its position statement on capital punishment, and any other comment would be inappropriate."

Gov. Mike Easley, who supports capital punishment, has said that no more executions will take place until the state can resolve the issue.

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper, said she did not have a projected date for when a possible decision could be announced.

"Our attorneys and the Department of Correction and the medical board are still talking at this point," she said.

The question of doctor participation in executions has figured in some of the challenges to lethal injection that have effectively left executions on hold in 11 states.

The central debate involves whether lethal injection violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

"I think they're grasping at straws to come up with a humane system to execute people, and there is no humane way," said Julien Ball, a spokesman with the Chicago-based Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

"They're between a rock and a hard place."

Death penalty supporters, meanwhile, caution that questions tied to lethal injection can probably be resolved without arguing the overall merits of putting inmates to death.

"The real, sustainable opposition will be over the possibility of executing an innocent person," said Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School and a proponent of capital punishment.

He also believes doctors should not have a role in executions, saying the lethal injection process has become "too medicalized."

"We should never put to death those we rightly hate any way that resembles a hospice death scene of those we love," Blecker said.

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