Local News

Critics Say State's Plan For Lethal Injection Unsatisfactory

Posted April 12, 2006

— The state says it will use a controversial new machine to make sure death row inmates do not suffer during a lethal injection execution. But does that comply with a federal judge's order for a pain-free execution? Some say that it does not.

The state's response to Judge Malcom Howard's order is to provide a machine that is supposed to ensure that Willie Brown stays unconscious for the lethal injection. When Brown, 61, is executed for a 1983 murder in Martin County, a Bispectral Index Monitor (BIS) will determine that he is unconscious before administering the drug that stops his breathing.

Brown's attorney, Donald Cowan, says that is not what the judge ordered.

"He wanted personnel and they gave him a machine," said Cowan.

Howard's order requires medical personnel to provide care if Brown awakens. Currently, doctors or nurses witness executions, but do not assist for ethical reasons.

"I think the BIS machine is okay if they have the properly trained medical people. They aren't doing that," said Cowan.

The Attorney General's Office and the Department of Correction would not comment on camera, saying their response in court papers speaks for itself.

Part of the court filing includes a statement from Dr. Mark Dershwitz, a medical advisor for the state. He says that it is highly unlikely that an inmate would regain consciousness. However, if that does happen, under this plan, the state still would not have doctors or nurses intervene. The prison would rely on their own staff instead.

The debate centers on the argument that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. A similar judge's order stalled an execution in California when medical professionals refused to participate.

While it is not illegal for doctors or nurses to assist in an execution, North Carolina Medical Society policy forbids it.

Brown is scheduled to be put to death next Friday, and the judge's response to this plan is expected by early next week.

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