Tuesday, July 31, 2007

After Flawed Executions, States Resort to Secrecy

New York Times: By ADAM LIPTAK

A Missouri doctor who had supervised more than 50 executions by lethal injection testified last year that he sometimes gave condemned inmates smaller doses of a sedative than the state’s protocol called for, explaining that he is dyslexic. “So it’s not unusual for me to make mistakes,” said the doctor, who was referred to in court papers as John Doe I.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch identified him last July as Dr. Alan R. Doerhoff, revealing that he had been a magnet for malpractice suits arising from his day job as a surgeon and that two hospitals had revoked his privileges. In September, a federal judge barred Dr. Doerhoff from participating “in any manner, at any level, in the State of Missouri’s lethal injection process.”

Naturally, state lawmakers took action to address the issue.

A new law, signed this month by Gov. Matt Blunt, makes it unlawful to reveal “the identity of a current or former member of an execution team,” and it allows executioners to sue anyone who names them. ...

In the wake of several botched executions around the nation, often performed by poorly trained workers, you might think that we would want to know more, not less, about the government employees charged with delivering death on behalf of the state.

But corrections officials say that executioners will face harassment or worse if their identities are revealed, and that it is getting hard to attract medically trained people to administer lethal injections, in part because codes of medical ethics prohibit participation in executions.

The Missouri law addresses that point, too. It bars licensing boards from taking disciplinary actions against doctors or nurses who participate in executions.

In a decision a week ago Sunday, a state court judge in Florida, Carven D. Angel, halted the execution of a death row inmate, saying, “We need to have people with competence and experience” to perform executions.

But, according to lethal injection procedures issued by Florida’s corrections department in May, there is only one job requirement to be an executioner there: you must be “a person 18 years or older who is selected by the warden to initiate the flow of lethal chemicals into the inmate.”

Those credentials struck Judge Angel as a little thin. ...

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