Local News

Judge: Medical Board Wrong to Punish Death Penalty Docs

Posted August 9, 2007

— The North Carolina Medical Board overstepped its authority in threatening to discipline any physician who participates in an execution, a judge said Thursday at the same time that he tossed the legal dispute over the state's death penalty back into the laps of state officials, ruling that the Council of State needs to review the protocol for executions..

Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. noted that the medical board was wrong to say it would punish doctors for assisting in executions and that the board's efforts shouldn't prevent the state from carrying out death sentences.

"Palliative care from a doctor to prevent unnecessary suffering, prior to a person being injected with lethal drugs which can cause excruciating pain, is not unprofessional or unethical," Morrison wrote in his ruling. "To threaten to discipline a doctor for helping in this manner is not regulating medicine for the benefit and protection of the people of North Carolina."

Morrison concluded the Council of State – comprised of the governor, lieutenant governor and eight other statewide elected officials – failed to hear arguments from those representing the condemned inmates before they approved a new "execution protocol."

"The essence of due process is the right to be heard," Morrison wrote in his decision. "It was not proper procedure to consider only documents and comments from those proposing the protocol and not hear from counsel for the condemned inmates."

Morrison ordered the council to reconsider its approval of the new protocol. A spokeswoman for North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who sits on the Council of State, said his office was reviewing the judge's decision.

Members of the medical board promise to uphold the state constitution and follow the Council of State when they take their oaths of office. Because the state allows the death penalty under certain circumstances, the medical board shouldn't try to block executions, Morrison wrote.

"It is part of North Carolina’s public policy, which is not to be stymied by a non-binding position statement," he wrote.

Medical board members are reviewing the ruling and had no comment on it, spokesman Dale Breaden said. The board stands by its policy on capital punishment, he said.

The medical board adopted the policy in January, saying that participating in an execution would violate a physician's code of ethics. Any physician who took part in an execution faced having his or her medical license suspended by the board, according to the policy.

State law requires that a doctor be present at executions to guarantee that a condemned inmate doesn't suffer, which would violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled in January that the medical board's policy and the state's protocol for carrying out executions conflicted with each other, and he placed several planned executions on hold until the Council of State could resolve the matter.

The Council of State revised the execution protocol in February, calling for a more active role by doctors.

Two inmates sued the state over the new protocol, and Morrison ruled Thursday that the Council of State needs to revisit the protocol.

"The state has made a very important policy decision that we're going to execute people," said Lucy Inman, an attorney representing death row inmate James A. Campbell, who was scheduled to die in early February. "It's an important and profound policy decision, and if we want to have public confidence in our policy, we need to be sure that it's imposed fairly and properly."

The protocol shouldn't allow a prison warden to halt an execution in process and shouldn't let a warden use a single monitor to determine if an inmate is unconscious during the execution, Morrison ruled. He also said state officials need to receive input from death-row prisoners before approving a new protocol.

Easley told WRAL that he didn't think the Council of State should hear from attorneys for death-row inmates while reviewing the execution protocol. Given the backgrounds of the council members, he said the panel doesn't have the expertise to make a decision in the matter.

Easley has called the debate, which has involved the council, two state agencies, several courts and an independent regulatory panel, a "Gordian knot." He urged the state legislature to try and resolve the dispute, but lawmakers adjourned for the year earlier this month without taking any action.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Jokers Wild II Aug 11, 2007

    I hope they come to terms with this stuff! I'd love to see more people get the Death Penalty and actually have it carried out before 30 years... By then they might as well leave it alone!

  • HEYGwenCOG Aug 11, 2007

    The Bible says, "obey the law of the land". That's what they are doing.... charlies1angel

    Went and looked for that, Charlies1angel. Looked in SEVERAL Bibles as a matter of fact. None of them say that. What'd you do - write your own?

    Nope! It's there! Here is the Scripture:

    1 Peter 2:13

    Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, and...

    Romans 13:2
    Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves

    God clearly tells us to obey all government authorities as He has placed them over us. We therefore, must obey all the laws enacted by them.

  • HEYGwenCOG Aug 11, 2007

    let's see - The medical board and democrats are bunch of liberals and tend not to believe in the death penalty. Christians typically have conservative views which lean republican which typically supports the death penalty, but think abortion is wrong. It seems people are a little mixed up on this issue.
    August 9, 2007 2:13 p.m.
    Report abuse

    I am a Christian and usually vote Republican and I think abortion is murder. But I also am against the death penalty. I am against it because it is no equitable. The wealthy can afford a team of top lawyers (OJ Simpson) and stands a fair chance of getting off scott free while the poor man is assigned a court appointed attorney who may or may not be skilled. Furthermore, I do not believe physicians should be assisting with anyone's death period.

  • Iquana Aug 10, 2007

    I support the death penalty not because I care if anyone is executed, but the minute it is abolished someone will begin to argue life in prison is cruel and unusual and then 20 years, then the bologna sandwhiches they are required to eat, etc. Of course if you have ever spent one day in prison (not jail) you might agree.

  • sixnitepkg Aug 10, 2007

    simple solution - enact the "fifty - cent - solution" no doctor required to pull a trigger... then send the bill to the criminals family - that's how China does it

  • doodad Aug 10, 2007

    Oustide the Beltline, we do not live in a civilized society. If we did, there would be no murders or need for the death penalty.

  • crisco27544 Aug 10, 2007

    FragmentFour.....read Romans 13:1-7

  • shep8851 Aug 10, 2007

    The Medical board set itself up for this fall by beginning to believe that it had law making authority, and that it could ignore or circumvent existing state statutes..Told you so...

  • Fair Tax Now Aug 9, 2007

    Death penalty-stops repeat offenders...cold!

  • Tax Man Aug 9, 2007

    "He also said state officials need to receive input from death-row prisoners before approving a new protocol."

    What? Why would you want advice from the people you are about to execute as to how you should do it? I'm good with the rest of the decision, but these convicted criminals should had NO say in any of it - they should just die! And the doctors should not be concerned with their licenses - if the medical board does not recant its directive this Judge should hold all of them in contempt and lock them up until after all the scheduled executions are completed!
    Let's move forward on this quickly as time is a wastin' - I do like the suggestion of the public hangings - no doctor needed there! Or by firing squad - works for me.