Thursday, May 19, 2016

Doing Harm: Medical Professionals and the Death Penalty

It's a brutal photo. Romell Broom holds his arms in front of him, palms out. Dozens of white adhesive squares mark the locations of all 18 attempts to insert an IV by members of an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction execution team in 2009. Broom had been sentenced to die for the 1984 rape and murder of 14-year-old Tryna Middleton. After two hours, during which eyewitnesses claim Broom showed signs of pain and distress, the execution was called off.
It was the first time a state had attempted an execution but failed to kill the condemned person since lethal injection was first used by Texas in 1982. This past March, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that attempting to execute Broom again would not constitute cruel and unusual punishment or double jeopardy.
With Pfizer's announcement last Friday that it would impose tighter regulations on drugs that can be used for executions, the last open-market source for those drugs has been closed. State-sanctioned killing will continue, but states must now buy drugs from under-regulated compounding pharmacies.
For years, death penalty states have worked on the margins of medicine. During Broom's attempted execution, the fact that medical professionals (including nurses and a phlebotomist) failed to insert IVs properly is a case in point. When the execution team failed, Ohio corrections officials solicited the last minute assistance of physician Dr. Carmelita Bautista, who was working in the prison at the time. Bautista later told The Associated Press that she was asked to help locate an IV site.
The Ohio Supreme Court's green light to the state to attempt to kill Broom again should raise another concern regarding state execution protocols: the ongoing participation of medical professionals in state-sanctioned killing.

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