Saturday, 24 May 2008

Anesthesiologist Joins Missouri's Execution Team

Anesthesiologist Joins Missouri's Execution Team

Posted on: Friday, 23 May 2008, 18:00 CDT

KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ Despite the medical profession's ethical guidelines against it, an anesthesiologist has joined the team that will carry out executions in Missouri.

The doctor's presence on the team was revealed recently in a federal court case brought by several death row inmates concerning the qualifications and training of Missouri's execution team members.

With all the pieces of its execution team apparently in place, the state is now ready after a hiatus of 2 { years to once again execute condemned prisoners whenever the Missouri Supreme Court issues the order.

The Missouri Department of Corrections will not reveal the doctor's name or specific role on the team.

The doctor's identity also will not be provided to the attorneys representing the death row inmates in the federal case, although they will be given information about licensure and qualifications.

Citing the ongoing litigation, attorneys for the death row inmates said they could not comment.

Corrections department officials also declined to comment, except to say that the team's doctor and two nurses "will perform the duties assigned to them in the DOC's lethal injection protocol."

Those duties include preparing the chemicals, inserting intravenous lines, monitoring the prisoner and supervising the injection of chemicals by corrections employees.

All of those actions violate the American Medical Association's policy against physician participation in executions. The American Society of Anesthesiologists has adopted the AMA's stance.

"It is a fundamental and unwavering principle that anesthesiologists, consistent with their ethical mandates, cannot use their art and skill to participate in an execution," the society stated in a brief it filed last year in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The AMA first adopted its ethical stance in 1980. Its current policy states:

"A physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution."

But neither professional group has an official policy on capital punishment in general. The AMA policy states: "An individual's opinion on capital punishment is the personal moral decision of the individual."

And neither group has the power to discipline a doctor who does not comply with the ethics policy.

Physician participation in executions long has been controversial, with some arguing that the best way to ensure that inmates are put to death humanely is to have a highly-trained professional involved.

"The good news is that if the anesthesiologist is qualified ... such involvement should heighten the likelihood that lethal injections will be carried out humanely," said death penalty expert Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law. "On the other hand, the anesthesiologist who has volunteered in Missouri is violating the ethical prohibitions of his or her profession, and attorneys should be entitled to investigate why such a physician would be willing to do that."

The issue drew national attention to Missouri in 2006 when the surgeon who previously oversaw the state's executions testified in another court case that he was dyslexic and sometimes transposed numbers.

Identified in court as John Doe I, the doctor also admitted using only half the proscribed dose of anesthesia during the state's last execution in October 2005 without notifying corrections officials.

A federal judge in Kansas City subsequently banned John Doe I from future executions. The judge ordered that the state employ a board-certified anesthesiologist to mix the drugs used to carry out executions as well as to administer, or at least observe the administration of, the lethal drugs.

At that time, department of corrections officials contacted hundreds of anesthesiologists in Missouri and elsewhere but could not find one willing to take on that role.

The case prompted the then-president of the anesthesiologists' society to advise its members to "steer clear" of participating in executions.

Unable to find a willing anesthesiologist, Missouri corrections officials instead offered a written protocol that called for a doctor, nurse or emergency medical technician to handle execution duties.

That protocol subsequently was ruled constitutional by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Kentucky's lethal injection protocol, which is similar to Missouri's, recently was ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, states have resumed carrying out executions that had been halted while the case was pending.

Two men have been put to death, most recently on Wednesday in Mississippi.

Missouri has not set any execution dates, but the attorney general has asked the state supreme court to schedule them for 14 inmates.


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Source: The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri)

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