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March 29, 2007

The realities of a doctored execution

This interesting article from North Carolina provides a rare inside look into some of the realities and challenges of trying to incorporate medical personnel into execution protocols.  (My students had a great debate on this very interesting topic at my class blog.)  Here is how the article begins:

A prison doctor stood in a small observation room near a brain-wave machine during the state's past two executions.   He said in an interview this week that as the inmates died just a few feet away, he did not monitor their level of consciousness, and prison officials never asked him to, despite a federal judge's order requiring that.

The question of whether Dr. Obi Umesi can stand in the observation room with a heart monitor and brain-wave monitor and not track a dying man's vital signs is at the center of a legal dilemma that has delayed five executions in this state.  If Umesi monitored the dying man's consciousness, he might have violated his profession's ethical rules.  If he did not, the state would be violating the judge's order.

March 29, 2007 at 06:09 PM | Permalink


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Tracked on Mar 30, 2007 6:02:23 AM


All this talk about how to administer the death penalty without pain just seems silly. If that is the big concern, why not just use a bullet to the head? Seriously, I know many of you reading this will think I'm a jerk, but wouldn't that be painless? If pain is the issue, the cruder the method, perhaps the better. But why on earth are we trying to "medicalize" the death penalty?

Posted by: | Mar 29, 2007 6:29:25 PM

If executions are not sanitized we'll see plainly what the government, and by extension all of us, are doing: killing a human being.

Murder looks nicer when you dress it up.

Posted by: | Mar 29, 2007 6:49:34 PM

Murder it is? Some of us call it justice.

Posted by: | Mar 29, 2007 8:07:41 PM

Murder it is? Some of us call it justice.

Posted by: | Mar 29, 2007 8:08:19 PM

You could also call this post: "The realities of idiot and arrogant judges who have decided to engraft silly requirements on states under the giuse of applying the Constitution."

Posted by: federalist | Mar 29, 2007 9:21:39 PM


You are going to post your student's white papers aren't you? Sounds like you are having a blast with the class and I am sure I am not the only one who wants to see work product.

Posted by: karl | Mar 29, 2007 10:48:52 PM

This is but another reason why we need to televise executions. This way we can see 1) whether the prison is complying with the court orders; and 2) all the adults and school-children that watch it can make a real, informed, and democratic choice whether the death penalty is a good thing.

Right now people go on hearsay evidence to make uniformed decisions about whether state’s killing was sufficiently or insufficiently cruel.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 30, 2007 7:41:26 AM

Why on earth would we want to let school aged children watch an execution? Children are rightly protected from many things in this world -- but that protection does not mean the activity is necessarily wrong. I agree with the other commentator insofar as our pursuit of a painless and "clean" death seems like folly. Plus, I wonder whether there really is an 8th Amendment requirement that punishment be painless.

Posted by: Steve | Mar 30, 2007 8:34:41 AM


Eighth Amendment jurisprudence has for well over a century held that the death should be as painless as possible (see, e.g., Wilkerson, Weems, Kemmler)

Posted by: anonymouse | Mar 30, 2007 12:24:16 PM

Steve, You asked why executions should be televised. Here is why.

In order for society to be able to adequately judge whether it is behaving according to its own norms, it must be able to be able to sense them. The framers recognized this and prevented the state from infringing on the publication of ideas that might be critical to it. Indeed, even those who think that the death penalty is swell will often say that judges should not be judging what is “cruel” or “unusual.” Instead, the voters should. Ironically, these people that keep saying that judges should have nothing to do with the process seem to resist the prospect of televised executions, wherein the voters could meaningfully observe. Instead, they want the deaths to be done under closed circumstances where a handful of witnesses, at best, can observe. They usually don’t want people to watch the condemned being strapped down.

As to making schoolchilden watch. It seems to be a tradition in this country to invite police officers to schools, and have the officers instruct the children about how to be nice to them. Usually the officers offer a bunch of half-truths about legal processes, which come down to a blinding respect for “the law.” Prosecutors sometimes appear and completely misstate the current state of jurisprudence on various issues. (At least this was my experience, a few decades ago.) Sometimes judges get involved, but this is becoming more rare. But, children are hardly protected from any “wrongs” in the world. They continuously subjected to messages that encourage conformity and obedience to whatever position the executive takes.

In order for children to actually be able to make informed decisions about the decisions of the executive they must not only be subject to agents of the executive telling them about why it is good to trust police, but they must also watch prison guards kill people until they are dead (as part of a state-sponsored killing.) This way, the children can decide for themselves whether they want to be shielded. (And, to make it fair, they should probably show 10 executions at a time, and later tell the kids which ones were later exonerated.)

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 30, 2007 1:16:33 PM

and nary a cite in the post, S.cotus

Posted by: federalist | Mar 30, 2007 1:56:12 PM


1. I take offense at your description of police officers. As someone who actually was a police officer before I became a lawyer, I can tell you that if anyone is speaking half-truths, it's lawyers.

2. Your argument that children should make "informed choices" is ridiculous. They are called children for a reason and as I pointed out earlier, there simply are matters that adults protect children from. I have no problem with public executions, but the idea that children should be "informed" on par with adults is so beyond reason I wonder how serious you really are about any of your arguments.

Posted by: Steve | Mar 31, 2007 4:44:29 PM

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