Friday, 21 August 2009

Ohio can't stop EMTs working as executioners

Ohio has no authority to stop certified emergency medical technicians from working as executioners in death penalty cases because they are not acting as EMTs when putting people to death, a state attorney ruled Wednesday.

The EMTs are included on the state execution team because they possess skills such as inserting IV needles, not because they are working as EMTs under medical direction, according to the legal opinion by Heather Frient, a lawyer with the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has two certified EMTs on its execution team. The state's chief executioner, who was an EMT, retired last month. He was replaced by another EMT, prisons spokeswoman Andrea Carson said.

The retired executioner and a current team member who is also an EMT explained their death penalty duties at a March hearing in federal court about Ohio's lethal injection system.

Jonathan Groner, a surgeon who studies lethal injection, maintains that the team members are violating Ohio law because they administer drugs that EMTs are not allowed to handle.

Frient's ruling didn't address this issue since it found only that the State Emergency Medical Services Board has no jurisdiction to investigate EMTs for such alleged violations.

"The individuals do not wear any EMT insignia or uniform, they do not refer to themselves as EMTs (nor does DRC refer to them as EMTs)," Frient wrote.

She added: "it does not appear, based on their testimony, that they think of themselves as EMTs during the execution process."

Groner said the ruling appears to set a lower ethical standard for EMTs than doctors or nurses.

"When you're in a car crash or your mother's having a heart attack, the first person on the scene are the EMTs, so why shouldn't EMTs have moral standards that are equal?" said Groner, a former member of the EMS board.

The board frequently looks at cases where EMTs are hired by hospitals because of their skills but not to work as EMTs, said Richard Rucker, the EMS board executive director.

"They're not holding themselves out as an EMT, so I don't see that as any different in this current situation working with Corrections," he said.

The state's former executioner was a longtime prison employee who had once worked as a prison EMT, although not recently.

The executioner, referred to in court as "Team Member 18," testified in March he volunteered for the execution team because he felt the job should be done right.

"I just felt, at that time, and always have, that it needed to be handled in a professional, humane manner, and that it should be someone with training," he said.


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