September 4, 2007
Doctors, executions don't mix
North Carolina's death-penalty briar patch gets thornier all the time.
"I think this case is ripe for adjudication, frankly," Wake County Superior
Court Judge Donald Stephens said last week.
Stephens was referring to the state's lawsuit against the N.C. Medical Board
over its policy that physicians may not participate in executions, which it
defines as attending, observing, giving advice or otherwise acting in any
State law, however, requires the presence of a physician, and the approved
execution protocol further spells out that the doctor shall monitor the
inmate's essential body functions and notify the warden of signs of "undue
pain or suffering."
That conflict essentially has enforced a death-penalty moratorium, which the
state seeks to break by overriding the Medical Board's authority.
Judge Stephens, asked by the board to dismiss the lawsuit, indicated by his
"ripe for adjudication" comment that he's likely to let the case proceed to
trial. That's fine because the state should be given a clear and
authoritative order to back off.
A decision issued last month by Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison
should be overruled on the issue of the Medical Board's position. While
ordering the Council of State to revise the execution protocol it approved
earlier this year, Morrison said the Medical Board is bound to obey the laws
of the state. As the law allows capital punishment in first-degree murder
cases, Morrison wrote, the board cannot discipline physicians who
participate in executions.
That's a frightening notion. The law should not compel physicians to violate
their own codes of ethical conduct. The Medical Board sets professional
standards for its members and should not compromise them just because the
state thinks it should execute people in a medically correct fashion.
If North Carolina wants to emerge from its death-penalty entanglement, it
should find a way to leave physicians out of executions.
Source : Greensboro News-Record