Killing them softly

Nowhere does the lunacy of public policy shine brighter today than in the area of capital punishment. Here in North Carolina, the latest sad chapter is enough to make a grown man cry. Or maybe even fry.

At issue is the nature of cruel and unusual punishment -- and whether those on death row should have to endure the pain and knowledge of their executions as they happen. There are too many facets of the capital punishment debate for me to take on tonight, so let's just focus on the one in the news.

N.C. prison officials have proposed using a controversial medical device to make sure death row inmate Willie Brown Jr. is unconscious and not experiencing pain during his April 21 execution. U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard had given prison officials until noon today to submit a proposal to abide with his ruling last week.

Howard had ordered that Brown's execution could only go forward if medically-trained professionals were present to make sure Brown is unconscious before paralyzing and heart-stopping drugs are administered.

Brown's lawyers had raised concerns that inmates had been conscious and experience pain during executions based on eyewitness accounts and the levels of post-mortem sedatives in their bodies.

Prison officials say they would use a bispectral index monitor, or BIS machine, to track the inmate's brain waves. The state's expert in the case, Dr. Mark Dershwitz, wrote in an affidavit that the machine is used to to make sure that surgical patients have received adequate anesthesia and patients on ventilators are adequately sedated.

"It is my opinion, beyond a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the utilization of the BIS monitor ... will prevent the possibility of the inmate being awake," wrote Dr. Mark the state's expert in this litigation, in an affidavit filed today.

However, when told about the state's proposal, Dr. Richard Pollard, president of the N.C. Society of Anesthesiologist, laughed out loud.

"These monitors cannot guarantee that a patient is asleep," said Pollard, a Charlotte anesthesiologist. "It has not been accepted by the American Society of Anesthesiologists."

The national group issued an advisory last summer saying these devices were an emerging technology but that the decision to use the machines should be made by doctors on a case-by-case basis.

"There is still much to be discovered about how these devices work, and in which situations they are best applied," Dr. Orin Guidry, the society's president at the time. "We are interested in following their continued evolution and to conducting further research in this area. Meanwhile, brain function monitors are an option to be used when the anesthesiologist deems it appropriate, just as he or she makes choices about specific drugs, dosages, warming devices and other types of monitors depending on the individual practitioner.

Can you stand it?

Our very willingness to kill one another while dancing around the niceties of "how" is mind boggling.

What I want to know is this: Why don't people in favor of the death penalty want public executions? Why aren't they eager for bullets in the back of the skull? Or maybe decapitation in the town square at high noon? Is it because that's not humane? Or is it because they're ashamed of their own lethal judgments.

The whole fucking business makes me sick.

Comments

Cruel

It does seem that if the prohibition against cruel punishments prevents us from hurting someone, it ought to prevent us from killing that same person.
 
“Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved.” —Aristotle

Perfectly said.

Go write that on my Kos diary. I just posted it.

From AP & The Asheville Citizen -Times

Apr 12, 5:01 PM EDT

State says condemned killer will sleep during execution

By ESTES THOMPSON
Associated Press Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- State prison officials will bring in an electronic monitor for the scheduled execution of a convicted killer to make sure he isn't awake while being put to death.

Willie Brown Jr. is to be put to death April 21 for the 1983 slaying of a woman during a convenience store robbery. His attorneys had asked a federal judge to stop the execution, citing evidence showing that the prisoner might wake up but be paralyzed and endure pain.

U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard said he would stop the execution without an assurance by noon Wednesday that Brown would be monitored so he could be put back to sleep if necessary.

In a document filed with Howard, the state Department of Correction said it bought a monitor used to ensure surgical patients are unconscious. A doctor and a nurse will watch the monitor in an observation room off the execution chamber, the state said.

But a defense lawyer said the state hadn't complied with the judge's wishes to say whether qualified medical personnel with training in anesthesiology would be present. Howard gave the defense until Friday to file a formal response.

The judge "really asked for the qualifications of the experienced, trained personnel," said Don Cowan. "The state gave him a machine."

The medical team the state has was "the same nurse and doctor who were there 10 years ago," he said. "They have not changed the personnel on their execution team."

Howard said in his order last week that the execution could proceed as scheduled if there were personnel "with sufficient medical training" to be sure Brown was unconscious before and during the injection of fatal drugs.

In its filing, the state said its bispectral index, or BIS, monitor, is approved by the FDA to determine if surgical patients stay asleep. The state document also said a registered nurse had enough skill to read and interpret the monitor's findings, but that both a nurse and a doctor would have access to it.

Department of Correction personnel will administer additional drugs to assure unconsciousness if the monitor shows the prisoner awakening, state lawyers said. The execution procedure also was changed to be certain the prisoner was asleep before starting the final and fatal portion of the injection.

Using the standard dose of sodium pentothal, the state said, the prisoner would remain unconscious for hours.

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