Local News

State Sues Medical Board Over Death Penalty Policy

Posted March 6, 2007 5:03 p.m. EST
Updated March 6, 2007 6:11 p.m. EST

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.