Local News

Legislator Calls on Governor to Temporarily Halt Executions

Posted January 18, 2007

Death Row, Death Penalty, Execution
— A state legislator is calling on Gov. Mike Easley to intervene and temporarily stop all executions after the North Carolina Medical Board on Thursday approved a policy that prohibits doctors from taking part in executions.

Under state law, a doctor must be present when an execution takes place in case something goes wrong, but does not administer the lethal injection.

The new policy states that a doctor can be present for an execution but cannot in any way participate in the process. Doctors who violate the policy could lose their licenses.

State lawmakers will have to decide how future executions would be handled in North Carolina.

"Under these circumstances, it seems very problematic that we in the General Assembly could allow executions to go forward when the doctor cannot play the role that is called for in the law," said Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, who is on the General Assembly's Capital Punishment Committee.

North Carolina's next execution is scheduled for Jan. 26, two days after the General Assembly reconvenes, which means the decision of how to handle the execution and two others in February will likely fall in Easley's hands.

"I think Gov. Easley ought to join Gov. (Jeb) Bush and eight other states in suspending the executions until such time as we in the General Assembly can figure out what to do," Luebke said.

After a botched lethal injection in Florida last month, Bush temporarily halted executions in Florida. The eight others followed shortly thereafter.

A representative for Easley said Thursday that the governor had not seen an official copy of the policy and therefore, could not comment on it.

Because of state law, the board won't discipline a doctor "for merely being 'present' during an execution," according to the policy approved unanimously on a voice vote and without debate.

"If the physician is doing something that actually furthers the progression of death, that is a violation of our policy," said Dr. George Saunders, chairman of the board's policy committee. "If the physician is trying to decrease suffering and make that person's life the best that they can for however long it is going to be, that is an appropriate action."

For example, treating an anxiety attack or nausea before an execution wouldn't violate the policy, Saunders said.

The policy conflicts with the nation's largest physician group, The American Medical Association, which considers even attending or observing an execution as a physician a breach of ethics.

"The AMA's policy is clear and unambiguous -- requiring physicians to participate in executions violates their oath to protect lives and erodes public confidence in the medical profession," the organization said in a statement.

The issue has been before the North Carolina Medical Board since last summer, when several doctors asked for guidance following a court request from defense lawyers that an anesthesiologist attend their client's execution. Only the specialist could adequately tell if an inmate was unconscious before being put to death, the lawyers argued.

As a result of the case, the Department of Correction bought a brain wave monitor to use along with a heart monitor to determine whether a prisoner was conscious. Both machines are watched from a small viewing room separated from the execution chamber by a window.

Executioners, described only as volunteers from the prison staff, stand behind a curtain in the chamber to press plungers that deliver the fatal drug through IV lines to the inmate, who is strapped to a gurney.

Under the medical board's policy, a doctor observing the brain wave monitor would violate the state's ethics standards, said board president Dr. Art McCulloch.

"It would not take a doctor to look at a number," said McCulloch, an anesthesiologist. "I would also suggest the technology is not absolutely failsafe."

McColloch also said if a doctor watching an execution saw, for example, a problem with the intravenous line that delivers the fatal drugs, "we certainly would not expect the physician to step in and correct anything."

Inmate Marcus Robinson, 33, is scheduled to be executed Jan. 26 for the 1991 murder of a Fayetteville teenager. Robinson's lawyers have asked a court and the governor to stop the execution because of questions about the humaneness of the state's execution method.

James Edward Thomas is scheduled to be executed Feb. 2 and James Adoph Campbell is scheduled for Feb. 9.

Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • edcm Jan 22, 2007

    "Killing people to teach people not to kill" seems a failed pedagogy - and it's expensive to boot.
    Perhaps attempting to revamp our social, judicial and political structures is still worth a try. From time to time there is evidence of a faint collective memory of concepts such as freedom and of the justice and equality that make a certain freedom possible.
    Ultimate freedom, however, may be found no matter what the situation, no matter what the circumstances. Carefully thought about though, I don't think many of us would want to test this idea under the conditions awaiting Marcus Robinson, James Edward Thomas and James Adoph Campbell. It will take more than thought to realize that we will not escape being marked by these events.
    "All life is to be treasured. It matters not how lowly such life may seem. Treasuring the lives of those who, in many cases, have not valued lives of others is an act of spiritual courage." "Buddhism & Capitol Punishment" Damien P. Horigan,

  • sobercuban Jan 20, 2007

    Phew ... If our prisons and jails weren't so jam-packed with minor drug offenders we might actually have room for the truely criminal.

    Maybe we could reintroduce the firing squad .... or hanging ??? Who needs doctors to determine if the condemed is in fact dead?
    Just film if on your camera phone and post it on YouTube or maybe air it pay-per-view and let the audience phone in when they think the person is dead!
    Wait ... no ... people don't want to see that! I don't care what happens to them ... just don't let it affect my daily life ... I've got shopping to do!

  • blueridgelab Jan 19, 2007

    Where will we house these criminals for the duration of their lifetime? How many facilities would we have to build? Would these prisoners be allowed to watch TV, have visitors, recreational facilities, go outside? What exactly would be their punishment-having to read a book, do needle point, make license plates? When they got sick and couldn't care for themselves would they receive long term medical treatment? Who would pay for that? Could these people offer any contribution to humanity from this facility? If so, what? Would there be a future group to monitor their civil rights and to ensure they weren't mistreated? Where exactly would all this lead to?

  • grumpyhermit Jan 19, 2007

    I have no sympathy for murderers. I feel that by murdering, a person forfeits certain basic human rights. If every person executed was in fact guilty I wouldn't care, even if they did feel a twinge or more during the process. My strong reservations are twofold: 1) current forensics have revealed that many from death row, in a number of states, are innocent of the crime, and 2) I feel that a civilized society should simply sequester demonstratedly dangerous individuals, with no chance of parole, ever.

  • nursevb8 Jan 19, 2007

    Humaneness? Some of these people aren't human! A doctor has to declare some dead, but not usually on the scene.

  • WXYZ Jan 19, 2007

    The requirement to have a doctor present at an execution makes little sense. Doctors are sworn to "Do No Harm". The execution of a man is certainly doing harm. Even just standing by and doing nothing while a man is killed, could certainly be considered a violation of the medical code of ethics. What was the legislature thinking? Any trained EMT would certainly be able to render medical help to anyone present (other than the condemned)--I expect that some people have fainted, fell and hurt themselves while witnessing an execution.

  • ncnurse Jan 19, 2007

    Yes hrattel, ignorance is bliss, and well demonstrated in your post. No one should feel sorry for these incorrigible low-lifes. If you murder someone, you have no right to live. My greatest fear is the bleeding hearts in our liberal legislature will do something stupidlike passing a moratorium, which will be the end of the death penalty in NC.

  • gvmtcheese Jan 19, 2007

    As a liberal, I agree that executions are vital to this society of criminals. Executions were going on long before we got here. I think we need to speed up these processes as well. It almost pays to be a career criminal in this country. The only thing you can not do is leave. You get to brawl once a week, you take sex when you want it, you get fed 3 times a day (if it does not get taken), you have plenty of reading and when you want to be alone, you just stab a guard or fellow inmate. What I am trying to say is that there is no incentive not to commit crime if the opportunity presents itself. Put yourself in some of the shoes of these people today, think about how it would be to eat mayonnaise cracker sandwiches for breakfast, I would be ready to goto the pen too. It sounds trivial but believe me, when your loved one is lying there on the slab because some homeless, broke, drug addict took their life, you would be ready to push down on the plunger if not, then you are the problem!

  • hrattel Jan 19, 2007

    It is too bad that so many of you feel the need to illustrate just how ignorant you are by making posts about things you obviously know nothing about. Have any of you heard of the U.S. Constitution? Without it how many more innocent people would have been executed at this point? And for your information a Capital Crime means that you either get LIFE WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE or Death - there is no rehabilitation factor considered! Ignorance is bliss, isn't it? AND NO ONE FORGETS THE VICTIMS - except prosecutors that seek Death against their wishes!

  • rmorris Jan 19, 2007

    I think all the people that are feeling sorry for the inmates should go see them in prison and see if they feel sorry for them afterwards. I have seen inmates on facing death and life in prison. Some may change but, they still have to answer for what they have done to their victims.The same people crying about slowing down executions now, will be crying about prisons be over crowded in a week.These people need to think of the victims of these inmates and remember the victim could have been one of their love ones.