April 11, 2007
Nurses to look at death penalty
Some want ban on participating
Andrea Weigl, News & Observer
RALEIGH - A handful of nurses are urging the N.C. Board of Nursing to pass
an ethics policy forbidding its members from participating in executions.
They want their licensing board to follow the lead of the N.C. Medical
Board, which passed a policy in January prohibiting doctors from doing
anything more than being present at an execution. The N.C. Nurses
Association plans to discuss the issue at a meeting later this month,
although its position would not be binding on the licensing board.
Cynthia Gallion, a nurse from Raleigh, has written to the board and
collected more than 80 signatures on a petition urging the nursing board to
"It is clearly against our code of ethics," Gallion said.
But nurses face a tougher challenge than doctors did in getting their
licensing board to take action.
David Kalbacker, the nursing board spokesman, said the board would have to
seek legislation to amend the Nursing Practice Act to forbid a nurse from
participating in an execution. So far, Kalbacker said, none of the nurses
has asked the board to consider introducing such legislation. Gallion said
she will, now that she knows it is required. Without such a prohibition
being made law, Kalbacker said, the board cannot discipline a nurse for
participating in an execution.
"We have to make a legislative change," Kalbacker said. "We can't make an
That is different from the medical board, which issued an ethics policy
called a "position statement" and did not have to go to the legislature to
change the Medical Practice Act. The medical board could merely approve a
new ethics policy because state law gives the board authority to discipline
doctors for departures from the ethics of the medical profession. There is
no similar catchall authority given to the nursing board under its Nursing
Practice Act, and therefore Kalbacker said the legislature would have to
grant the board authority to discipline nurses for assisting executions.
It's unclear how nursing legislation would fare at the state legislature.
Gov. Mike Easley and Democratic legislative leaders say they want to let the
courts decide the numerous lawsuits over lethal injection before they
propose a remedy. So far, five inmates' executions have been indefinitely
delayed by lawsuits that question whether lethal injections are painless --
a constitutional requirement -- and ethical wrangling about whether doctors
should monitor the process.
Nurses who want their board to act quickly may be out of time this session:
The deadline for introduction of legislation in the Senate has passed, and
the deadline in the House is April 18.
The American Nurses Association, the nurses' equivalent of the American
Medical Association, opposes nurses playing any role in executions.
"Nurses should refrain from participation in capital punishment and not take
part in assessment, supervision or monitoring of the procedure or the
prisoner," the group wrote in 1985. "... Regardless of the personal opinion
of the nurse on the appropriateness of capital punishment, it is a breach of
the ethical traditions of nursing."
No punishment now
A nurse will not face discipline for defying the American Nurses
Association, is a professional organization and is separate from the nursing
board, which is the state's regulatory agency that licenses and disciplines
nurses. The nursing association'
disciplinary actions by the nursing board, according to officials with both
In fact, the N.C. Nurses Association doesn't prohibit nurses from being
involved in executions. In 2003, the state association rescinded its ethics
policy that barred nurses from playing a role in executions. The association
now leaves the decision up to the individual nurse while opposing prison
officials requiring nurses to participate in executions as part of their
jobs. However, Tina Gordon, the association'
issue has been referred to its commission on standards and professional
practice, which next meets April 30.
State law does not require a nurse's presence at executions. However, court
records and deposition testimony by prison officials indicate that at least
two nurses have been present at each of the past several executions. One of
the nurses is responsible for monitoring the inmate's consciousness on a
brain-wave monitor. A federal judge allowed two executions to go forward
last year if state officials had a doctor and a nurse monitor the inmates'
consciousness to ensure the inmate was fully sedated before being injected
with paralyzing and heart-stopping drugs.
Last week, Dr. Obi Umesi, the doctor who attended the most recent two
executions, said he never monitored the inmates' consciousness or the
brain-wave monitor. Central Prison Warden Marvin Polk indicated a nurse, not
the doctor, was responsible for tracking the inmate's consciousness on the
One of the nurses who wrote to the nursing board, Sue Guptill of Durham,
questioned whether nurses were qualified for that responsibility.
"I do not believe that anything in the preparation of nurses qualifies us to
determine whether a person is adequately sedated so as not to suffer while
being executed," Guptill wrote, "nor do I know of any training or experience
which adequately qualifies a nurse to make this determination.
Source : News & Observer