Monday, October 26, 2009

Once More Into the Breach

You've heard of Doctors Without Borders. They won the Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago. One that was pretty clearly deserved. Ohio is looking for another group: Physicians Without Ethics.

When last we dropped in on the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, it was working on finding some new and better replacement or alternative or optional or just-in-case method of killing people.

The Department hired Mark Dershwitz, an anesthesiologist at the University of Massachusetts who testifies on behalf of the government in pretty much all the lethal injection litigation, to help think up a new and improved way of killing people since they couldn't seem to get the old, foolproof system to work. Governor Ted had explained that they were making great progress. Judge Frost had put off hearings on Ohio's lethal injection system until July. All the executions scheduled before the end of the year (Broom, Reynolds, Durr, and Biros) had been put off. Killings scheduled for January and February (Mahdi and Brown) were still set to go.

That was last Monday, and nothing much has actually changed in the last week. Well, one thing has changed. Time has passed, and the state and its agents have spent "substantial time each day" trying to find some "medical professional" who'll actually tell them how they can kill people nicely. Turns out, that's a daunting task.

The news broke in an AP report by Andrew Welsh-Huggins based on a filing by the Ohio Attorney General in federal court on Friday. (Sorry, I can't find a free copy on-line.) The AG told the judge:
The ethical and professional licensing implications of the participation of physicians and other medical professions in capital punishment have deterred and continue to deter some physicians and other medical professionals from speaking publicly – or privately – about alternative medications and administration techniques. It has proven to be challenging to solicit advice and input from physicians and other medical professionals concerning alternatives that might be considered.
In simple English: We're having trouble finding doctors and nurses who'll violate the ethics of their professions and risk their licenses to tell us how to kill people.


But never fear. Five state legislators have agreed to help find willing doctors. And DRC is, I repeat, spending "substantial time each day" (hours?) trying to track down physicians without ethics.

But even without actual medical help, they have some ideas. They could skip the pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride and simply kill with a single, massive dose of barbiturate, if that would be "technically, medically or scientifically feasible." (Actually, they're under a court order to do that, but nobody pays any attention to that order.) And while the change would reduce the risk of horrific pain during the actual execution, Ohio's major problem lately, and the one that seems to have spurred DRC to action, has nothing to do with the drugs used.

The problem is that we can't find killers who can stick needles into veins.

So they're considering alternatives to that. Specifically, they're thinking about killing by intravenous injection (which is what they do now, when they manage to do it), or by intra-muscular injection or by injection into the bone marrow.

The good news is that they plan to have all this worked out by mid-December so that they can get the actual executioners up to speed in time for the January execution. Of course, first they've got to find those unethical MDs.

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