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Executioner Banned in Missouri but Available for Hire Elsewhere

by John E. Dannenberg

A former Missouri prison doctor and participant in lethal injections, who was banned from performing executions in that state, is still for hire to conduct executions in other jurisdictions. With over 40 death sentences notched in his belt, he is widely sought after for his purported expertise with lethal injections.

Dr. Alan Doerhoff, 64, proudly told the Associated Press on August 14, 2008, “Nobody will ever do as many [executions] as I have.” In fact, Doerhoff has assisted with lethal injections not only in Missouri but also in Arizona and Connecticut, and for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

His departure from Missouri’s execution team was based upon his previously non-disclosed dyslexia, which causes him to transpose numbers and make dosing mistakes. [See: PLN, July 2008, p.28]. Doerhoff has since stated that “he is not dyslexic, but does transpose numbers” – a seeming distinction without a difference. He has also been sued for malpractice over 20 times.

Apparently, his current Dept. of Corrections clients don’t care. Rather, they rely on his self-proclaimed status as the “world’s authority on lethal injection” to perform allegedly painless executions. His procedure is to deliver all the drugs via a large-bore trauma needle with a catheter attached that he threads into a thumb-sized vein in the groin, neck or shoulder, and guides to a position near the heart.

Doerhoff claims this “central line” protocol is crucial to foolproof and painless executions. Once he has surgically installed the catheter and mixed the drugs, the drugs are pumped from an adjoining room using plungers operated by prison employees. It is by this method that he distances himself, as a doctor, from personally executing his patients.
He simply ensures that other people are able to execute them, thus making a mockery of the Hippocratic Oath.

Lethal injection procedures in other states often use a peripheral intravenous needle in the arm. Doerhoff called this “unreliable and risky,” and said “It’s negligent not to use a central line.” He observed that while debate continues over which drugs to use in lethal injections, the drugs “always work.” Instead, it is IV malfunctions or misplacement by untrained personnel that causes botched executions.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, noted that doctor-participants in executions are hard to come by. Doerhoff had 20 years of practice in Missouri prison hospitals prior to becoming the state’s executioner; he conducted executions in Missouri until 2006, when court-ordered reforms were enacted.

The state’s new lethal injection protocol, which Doerhoff termed “overly complicated and potentially problematic,” involves 10 to 15 syringes instead of the usual three. It will be tested during the state’s next-scheduled execution. “It will have the same effect, the guy will die,” Doerhoff said. “But it may not be pretty.”

Doerhoff noted that he reassures the prison employees who administer the lethal drugs. “These guys are scared to death, they’re shaky,” he stated, with no apparent sense of irony. “I help them calmly go through the procedure.” He recalled executing federal prisoner Timothy McVeigh, who had bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. “He was the most kind, soft-spoken man, very polite,” Doerhoff recalled, “a career military man, spit and polish to the end.”

To relieve stress, Doerhoff – who has a history of three heart attacks – rides his Harley-Davidson motorcycles. His dyslexia notwithstanding, he quipped, “I can still see the road signs.” It’s too bad he can’t see how assisting in executions violates the central tenant of his chosen profession: To do no harm.

Sources: Associated Press, Los Angeles Times

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