Tuesday, February 21, 2006


If you're new to this story, it began when two anesthesiologists refused to take part in the execution of Michael Morales, who was convicted in 1983 of the brutal bludgeoning murder of a 17-year-old girl. They were asked to be present in the execution chamber to assure the "humaneness" of the procedure; but backed out when it became clear to them that they would have to intervene to sedate Morales if he regained consciousness or was in pain.

The doctors had been brought in by a federal judge after Morales' lawyers argued that the three-part lethal injection process violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The lawyers said a prisoner could feel excruciating pain from the last two chemicals if he were not fully sedated.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel gave prison officials a choice last week: bring in doctors to ensure Morales was properly anesthetized, or skip the usual paralyzing and heart-stopping drugs and execute him with an overdose of a sedative.

Prison officials planned to press forward with the execution Tuesday night using the second option.

The judge approved that decision later Tuesday, but said the sedative must be administered by a person who is licensed by the state to inject medications intravenously, a group that includes doctors, nurses and other medical technicians.

The execution was indefinitely postponed after the state of California informed the judge that they "could not comply with [the] requirements" -- presumably because no doctor, nurse, or medical technician would agree to violate their professional oath by using their medical knowledge and training to take life.

Dr. Priscilla Ray, chairwoman of the American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, last week condemned the ruling requiring the anesthesiologists presence.

"The use of a physician's clinical skill and judgment for purposes other than promoting an individual's health and welfare undermines a basic ethical foundation of medicine -- first do no harm," she said. "Requiring physicians to be involved in executions violates their oath to protect lives."

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