Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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May 3, 2014

Oklahoma execution renews debate on doctors' role

CHICAGO (AP) — A botched lethal injection in Oklahoma this week has renewed a debate on whether doctors should be banned from executions — or required to participate to make the process more humane.

Some of the nation's 32 death penalty states mandate doctor participation — including Oklahoma — but critics say what happened there proves a doctor's presence can't guarantee the process will go smoothly.

"Physicians have an ethical and moral responsibility to remain as far from the execution chamber as possible," said Dr. Jonathan Weisbuch of Phoenix, a death penalty opponent. He calls what happened in Oklahoma torture. "How dare they experiment on a living human being," Weisbuch said.

In Oklahoma on Tuesday, the execution team struggled to find a suitable vein for injecting the lethal drugs and a vein collapse prevented the drugs from working properly. Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer, writhed before the execution was called off. He died later of apparent heart attack. According to witnesses and a letter from the state's prisons chief, a physician checked the IV line, checked to see if Lockett was unconscious and reported that not enough drugs had been given to kill him — all violations of the American Medical Association's ethics policy.

The AMA says it's unethical for doctors to be involved except in a peripheral way. That's one reason why the number and identities of physicians who do participate are shrouded in secrecy. Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, the AMA's president, issued a statement Friday regarding Lockett's execution.

"No matter how one feels about capital punishment, it is disquieting for physicians to act as agents of the state in the assisting, supervising or contributing to a legally authorized execution," Hoven said. "The American Medical Association is troubled by continuous refusal of states to acknowledge the ethical obligations of physicians that strictly prohibit involvement in capital punishment."

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