Local News

State Sues Medical Board Over Death Penalty Policy

Posted March 6, 2007

Death Row, Death Penalty, Execution

— The state Department of Correction filed suit Tuesday against the North Carolina Medical Board over the board's policy to discipline any physician who participates in an execution.

The board adopted the policy in January, contending that taking part in an execution would violate a doctor's ethical code of conduct. Any physician who violated the policy would face suspension of his or her license.

State law requires that a licensed physician be present at all executions to ensure that the condemned inmate doesn't suffer. But Central Prison Warden Marvin Polk stated in an affidavit that the new policy has made it impossible for prison officials to find a licensed physician to assist in executions.

"All licensed physicians I have contacted, including current employees of the North Carolina Department of Correction, have advised that they refuse to subject themselves to disciplinary action by the (medical) board for participating or otherwise being involved in a judicial execution," Polk said.

A Wake County judge last month halted several planned executions, ruling that the medical board's policy conflicted with the state law. State officials would need to adopt a new protocol to get around the policy, the judge said.

The Council of State subsequently adopted a new protocol that actually increased the role of physicians in executions. Previously, a nurse or emergency medical technician monitored the inmate's body function, but the new rules called for a doctor to handle those duties and to halt any execution if it appeared the prisoner was suffering.

The state is asking in the lawsuit that a judge rule an execution isn't a medical procedure, which would mean the medical board wouldn't have oversight over physicians taking part. The state also is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the board from disciplining any physician who participates in an execution.

The Department of Correction hopes to resolve the impasse in time to carry out the scheduled execution of Allen Richard Holman at 2 a.m. Friday.


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  • Watcher Of Things Mar 10, 2007

    Look - if a doctor doesn't want to be there - pay me $100.00 - I'll even provide my own bullet!

  • mvnull Mar 9, 2007

    "i dont understand what the problem is here. a doctor to make sure the patient isn't suffering? they are on death row for a reason, who cares if they suffer."

    Go watch (or re-watch) The Green Mile, and in particular observe Percy. That should just about answer your question.

  • sasuke Mar 8, 2007

    i dont understand what the problem is here. a doctor to make sure the patient isn't suffering? they are on death row for a reason, who cares if they suffer. have the doc pronounce time of death and it's done with. stop all this bickering and wasting time and money.

  • mvnull Mar 7, 2007

    A health care proxy has to act in the best interests of the patient. Sometimes, the authority is taken away from them when they don't act *for* the patient -- they are often relatives and may have a vested interest in the patient outcome.

    Again, think what you are doing to now say that you don't have to act in the best interests of the patient. And, you can be sure that a change in law of this sort will have multiple unintended results -- and all it takes is a hot-shot lawyer to find a way to get away with murder.

  • thrasher3 Mar 7, 2007

    The doctor is not participating in the executions.... he is jsut monitoring the person for signs of pain... Which is the same thing as a hospice Dr. I see what you are saying with the DNR BUT the state says that: "Do Not Resuscitate orders are typically established on the foundation of an advance directive from a person, or from someone who has been granted authority to make decisions on the patient’s behalf, like a health-care proxy..." If that is so Doesnt the state have authority to make the decisions which gives them the right to sign the paperwork....????

  • shep8851 Mar 7, 2007

    I still don't get all the fuss. Its simple. The Medical Board is an appointed position/agency, not elected. It has rule making authority but not law making ability. Everything it does is subject to review and/or approval by the Legislature. State Law-enacted by elected representatives of the people-trumps the rule making authority of the Board. If the State Law commands the presence of a Doctor at executions, the Medical Board has absolutely no authority to discipline any Doctor who complies with the State Law.

  • mvnull Mar 7, 2007

    A "do not resuscitate" order has to be freely given. You cannot force someone to sign it (or, rather, it is invalid if the patient is forced). Even if you did, that would not allow the physician to be involved. How is this any different from allowing doctors to be involved with euthanasia? Other than, of course, that in euthanasia, the patient "requests" it. Overturning the Medical Board in this matter creates a large loophole that may allow physicians to be involved with other murders.

  • ridgerunner Mar 7, 2007

    The medical board should not be allowed to form public policy. Perhaps we should return to using a firing squad, then the Dr. could be called to pronounce that the person was dead after the execution.

  • thrasher3 Mar 7, 2007

    JUST SO YOU KNOW..... any one in healthcare falls under the hippocratic oath stating do no harm AND they are operating under the medical controls direction (ie: a physician) so IF a paramedic was to participate under current standards they could take the paramedics certifications as well as the doctors liscense can be taken for giving the paramedic permission and direction to participate.....

    The only way to get around the state law as it stands is as part of the patient sentence have the patient sign a Do Not Resuscitate order..... It gives the MD permission to provide comfort care BUT prohibits any type of life saving procedures.....

    I said that from the beginning

  • G-man Mar 7, 2007

    The head of the medical board has stated he against executions, and thus is using his position to push his own agenda.
    How many doctors each year lose their license when they kill a patient? Accident or not, dead is dead. Just seems like a big double standard anyway you look at it. The medical board should be replaced, and the law should be changed that a doctor does not have to be on hand. I know many a paramedic that will fill that void. And they can pronounce a victim dead so why not an executed body. As for innocent cases. If there is a doubt don't ececute them. I haven't reviewed a case in NC yet that had any doubt as to guilt.