Wednesday, 4 April 2007

It's shameful that you would put someone who suffers from dyslexia in charge of administering chemicals that kill someone

Execution doctor stays secret

Officials said Tuesday that they would not disclose the name of the dyslexic surgeon in charge of Missouri's lethal injections, whose testimony that he sometimes confuses figures helped persuade a federal judge to halt the state's executions.

Officials want to protect the surgeon, called John Doe I in court documents, from "harassment of various sorts," said Brian Hauswirth, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections. He said he would not elaborate.

In October, a U.S. magistrate judge ordered the surgeon's identity concealed to protect the state's security interests and the doctor's privacy.

Death penalty critics said the state had little justification to keep a lid on the surgeon's identity.

"It's shameful that you would put someone who suffers from dyslexia in charge of administering chemicals that kill someone," said Gino F. Battisti, a lawyer from St. Louis who has represented death row inmates. "People have a right to know how the system works."

In a ruling on Monday, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. wrote that he had concerns about John Doe I's qualifications and the program's lack of protocols and accountability.

Too much of it relied on a surgeon who freely admitted confusing facts and amounts, Gaitan found. That produced an "unacceptable risk" of subjecting an inmate to unconstitutional suffering.

The order amended Gaitan's previous ruling in the case of Michael A. Taylor, who faces execution for murdering a 15-year-old girl in Kansas City in 1989. Taylor has appealed his sentence, arguing that Missouri's method of execution could force him to suffer cruel pain and suffering.

On Tuesday, Hauswirth said the department would comply with Gaitan's order to come up with a new lethal injection procedure by July 15. Among the requirements is that a certified anesthesiologist mix the lethal-injection drugs.

John Doe I is not an anesthesiologist, Gaitan said.

In a deposition this month, the doctor testified that he would decide when an inmate had had a proper dose of anesthetic medicine by reading his face.

But Gaitan noted that a videotape proved that an inmate's face was, in fact, obscured from the surgeon's view in the death chamber.

Will the state be able to find an anesthesiologist?

"We're going to try to find one," Hauswirth said.

That could prove difficult. In February, the American Medical Association urged its members to observe their oaths to protect lives and to stay clear of involvement with executions.

"The use of a physician's clinical skill and judgment for purposes other than promoting an individual's health and welfare undermines a basic ethical foundation of medicine - first, do no harm," said Dr. Priscilla Ray, who heads the AMA's council on ethical and judicial affairs, in a statement in February.

At the time, Ray was commenting on another federal judge's order, similar to Gaitan's, for physician participation in California's executions.

Kent Gipson, whose law firm Public Interest Law Center, based in Kansas City, has represented Missouri death row inmates, said he thought that the "state is worried that if this guy gets found out and gets his medical license jerked, they'll never find another doctor to help them execute people.

"That's going to be the problematic aspect of Gaitan's order," Gipson said. "I wouldn't think that any anesthesiologist in the state would" participate in an execution.

John Doe I said in his deposition that he established Missouri's execution system a decade ago, at the request of embarrassed corrections officials, after an episode in which a condemned man, Emmitt Foster, took more than 30 minutes to die.

"My obligation to the director is he is able to go out and does not have to explain to the press why did this happen, why didn't this happen," the doctor said.

"I was the only physician available anywhere to ask about" lethal injections, he added. 314-340-8337

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