Thursday, 25 January 2007

Lethal Injection Challenge Halts North Carolina Executions

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lethal Injection Challenge Halts North Carolina Executions

I've just heard from Stephen Dear in North Carolina that a state judge in North Carolina has stayed scheduled executions in the state pending a challenge to its lethal injection procedures. We will be updating this story throughout the day as more information becomes available.

Andrea Weigl, a staff reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer has the first report, which has been picked up by AP.

A Wake County Superior Court judge this morning halted two planned executions until Gov. Mike Easley and the Council of State approve a new procedure for having a doctor present.

State law requires a doctor to be present at executions. But the American Medical Association opposes doctors' presence or participation in executions as a violation of their oath to save lives. To stay in compliance with state law, the state medical board ruled that a doctor can be present at executions but cannot participate in any way, or else risk losing his or her medical license.

Senior Resident Judge Donald W. Stephens had given the state until 10 a.m. today to prove that the governor and Council of State had approved the more limited role. When it failed, Stephens ordered the executions stopped.

Marcus Robinson was scheduled to die by lethal injection early Friday morning, while James Edward Thomas was to be executed Feb. 2. The inmates' lawyers argued that the N.C. Medical Board's ruling didn't ensure their clients' executions would meet constitutional safeguards.

Also, Henry Weinstein has, "N.C. judge may block 3 executions over doctor participation," in today's Los Angeles Times.

North Carolina's capital punishment statute requires that a doctor be present at the execution.

In April, U.S. District Judge Malcolm J. Howard blocked an execution, but relented after prison officials agreed to use a bispectral index monitor, which the state said could monitor the inmate's consciousness. Howard said the execution could proceed if medical personnel were present to ensure that the condemned person was unconscious before the lethal injection.

Some North Carolina physicians became concerned and asked the state medical board to clarify what doctors could and could not do during an execution. Last week, the board found that "physician participation in capital punishment is a departure from the ethics of the medical profession," citing North Carolina law and the American Medical Assn.'s Code of Medical Ethics.

The board acknowledged that state law requires the presence of a physician during executions and said doctors would not be disciplined for merely being "present." However, the board emphasized that any physician who engaged in a variety of activities, including prescribing or administering medication, monitoring vital signs and rendering technical advice would be in violation of the American Medical Assn. guidelines.

Much more on lethal injection challenges is here.

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