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Medical Board To Address Physician's Presence During Lethal Injections

Posted May 17, 2006

— It's a hot debate that not many people want to step into. But for the first time, the North Carolina Medical Board has agreed to weigh in on whether doctors should participate in executions.

On one hand, the law says that a doctor must be present at Central Prison for lethal injections. The doctor sits in an adjacent room and watches over heart and brain monitors.

But on the other hand, doctors are sworn by the Hippocratic Oath to protect life. Doctors are asking the medical board to sort this conflict out and take a stand on the issue.

It appeared to be a routine vote when the North Carolina Medical Board agreed to allow a committee to study the issue, but there is nothing routine about the debate.

"I feel ... that physicians are in a quandary as to what if any role we should play in executions," said retired Raleigh physician Dr. Elizabeth Kanof.

Kanof is one of six doctors who wrote letters to the board asking members to take a look at the issue.

"It certainly violates what the American Medical Association's position is, which is that physician's should not participate in any way," she said.

"It's a significant issue and a serious issue that we will need to review," said board president Dr. Robert Moffat.

The North Carolina Medical Board currently has no policy regarding a doctor's participation in executions. The board is reviewing if that should change.

"I think there may be conflict between state law and ethical conduct in some professions," said Moffat. "That's why the policy committee will review this."

"I have ambivalent feelings about it, frankly, and I need guidance just like the rest of us," said Kanof.

The Medical Board Policy Committee will take up the issue at its July 19 meeting. The committee could come back with a policy or simply a statement regarding the issue.


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