Monday, April 10, 2006

Federal judge may halt NC execution; wants guarantee of unconsciousness

A federal judge said he will stop the state's scheduled April 21 execution of Willie Brown unless the it can assure it will keep him unconscious during his lethal injection. The state has until Wednesday to show it meets US District Judge Malcolm Howard's standards.

This is an interesting case. It sounds reasonable that a person be unconscious at the time of lethal injection. On the other hand, how can the state guarantee that a prisoner will remain unconscious as the procedure takes place? The N&R story quotes the head of a state association of anesthesiologists who says the judge's ruling will require an anesthesiologist or a nurse anesthetist to be on hand at executions. A California execution was halted earlier this year when doctors declined to participate after a similar ruling by a federal judge.

Where would a ruling by Howard to halt Brown's execution lead? Suppose doctors or nurses fitting the judge's criteria refuse to participate? Is it in the best interest of the state for them to obstruct a verdict reached by a jury? In performing executions, it is important that they be conducted humanely as possible, including keeping a prisoner unconscious during the procedure. However, I think it will be hard to guarantee unconsciousness, which may make it an unreasonbale standard. It looks like this issue may wind up on a future Supreme Court docket.

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