April 7, 2007
N.C. legislature on sidelines of execution lawsuit
Ethics battle between medical board, AG's office hampers action
House Speaker Joe Hackney sounded hesitant Thursday to consider legislation
that tries to resolve an impasse over the role of doctors during executions,
saying that Gov. Mike Easley's office has told him that any change could
prolong the legal fight.
Several Republicans have filed bills that would take away the N.C. Medical
Board's authority to punish doctors involved in capital punishments.
The medical board declared in January that any doctor who participates in an
execution violates medical ethics and could face sanction.
That threat has effectively shut down the death penalty in the state as the
conflict between state attorneys and the medical board is litigated. The
legal morass has led to an unofficial moratorium on executions with a Wake
County judge putting five scheduled executions on hold.
Hackney, D-Orange, suggested that the state might have to let the current
lawsuit with the medical board "play itself out so that we know what the
rules are" for executions.
"The folks at the governor's office seem to think that passing a bill
similar to what has been proposed would simply prolong and provoke further
litigation," he said. "I don't believe they see that as a solution to the
legal impasse that we are currently in."
State law requires that a doctor only be present when an inmate is put to
death, but a federal judge allowed an execution to proceed last year only
after the state promised that a doctor would monitor the inmate to prevent
After the medical board questioned the ethics of doctors participating in
executions, the N.C. Attorney General's Office sued the board on behalf of
prison officials, who have been unable to find a doctor willing to risk the
board's potential wrath.
Easley said after a public appearance in Raleigh this week that the courts
need to resolve their differences before legislators can act.
until they get some final resolution from the federal and the state courts,"
Easley said Tuesday.
Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, the House minority leader, said Thursday that he
disagreed with Easley and Hackney, saying that a bill he co-sponsored would
satisfy the federal courts by having a doctor on site at executions and
keeping the medical board from punishing doctors.
Stam emphasized that Attorney General Roy Cooper and the group representing
North Carolina's district attorneys have said they support the legislature
getting involved in the issue.
"I'm just sort of flabbergasted by the governor," Stam said. "I don't
understand why he thinks that."
Source : Associated Press