Saturday, 20 October 2007

Medical Board to appeal ruling on physician's role in executions

The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. --The state Medical Board will appeal a judge's decision that the panel overstepped its authority by threatening to punish physicians for participating in executions.
The board's policy effectively triggered a moratorium on the death penalty in North Carolina, which has not executed a condemned inmate since August 2006.

The ruling issued last month by Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said executions are not medical procedures and whether to ban doctors from them is strictly a legislative decision.

The board, which licenses and disciplines doctors in North Carolina, adopted the policy in January, saying the practice violates the ethics of a profession tasked with saving life. In a statement, the board said the panel still believes its position "accurately reflects the ethics of the medical profession and the board's authority to discipline physicians for violating medical ethics."

"After thoughtful deliberation, the board determined that the principle that physicians should not take an active role in judicial executions is a principle that should not be abandoned," the board said.

State law requires that a doctor be present during a lethal injection, and a federal judge demanded last year that a doctor oversee the process of putting an inmate to death.
The state had revised its lethal injection process in an attempt to satisfy the judge, requiring that a physician monitor "the essential body functions of the condemned inmate" and notify the warden if the inmate shows signs of "undue pain and suffering."

Stephens halted several executions earlier this year, citing a 1909 law that requires the Council of State to approve any change to the state's execution method. Although they later did so, executions remained on hold while the state challenged the medical board's position.
The council earlier this month declined to revisit the state's execution method, rejecting an administrative judge's conclusion that they made mistakes when approving the so-called "execution protocol" earlier this year. That decision can be also be appealed.

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