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Washington’s Top Prison Doctor Resigns Over Executions; Entire Execution Team Later Quits Following PLN Records Request

Washington’s Top Prison Doctor Resigns Over Executions; Entire Execution Team Later Quits Following PLN Records Request

by Mark Wilson

Washington State death row prisoner Darold Ray Stenson was scheduled for execution in December 2008. He got an unlikely stay, however, when the top physician for the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) resigned to avoid involvement in Stenson’s death sentence.

Dr. Marc Stern supervised about 700 medical staff in WDOC facilities statewide. He was troubled that some of the people he supervised were participating in preparations for lethal injections, and voiced concerns to his supervisors. According to Stern, no solution was forthcoming.

He noted that it was unethical for doctors to take any part in executions, and that both the American Medical Association and Society of Correctional Physicians oppose physician participation in carrying out death sentences. Resigning was the only way he could remove himself from being involved with Stenson’s execution, Stern stated.

WDOC Assistant Secretary Scott Blonien characterized Stern’s objection as more personal than professional. “It’s clear to us that Marc had a personal, ethical conflict and we respect that,” said Blonien. “There’s nothing we would want to do in the department to cause someone to commit a violation of their personal ethics.” All WDOC employees who participate in executions do so voluntarily, Blonien added.

Given that Dr. Stern resigned because some WDOC medical employees had agreed to assist with lethal injections, PLN wanted to know who those employees were. Therefore, on January 28, 2009, PLN editor Paul Wright submitted a public records request to the WDOC seeking “all documents disclosing the identity of medical employees who have agreed to participate in executions of prisoners ....” from 2002 to the date of the request.

Attorneys for three Washington death row prisoners who are challenging the state’s lethal injection protocol had also requested information about the execution team, but those requests related to the team’s qualifications and experience, not their identities.

On March 31, 2009, all four members of the WDOC’s execution team resigned, indicating they were concerned their names might be disclosed. “The history of state murder is there’s never a shortage of executioners. But if we are going to have the death penalty the public should know who its killers are,” Wright stated.

PLN’s public records request remains pending; if any WDOC medical employees have agreed to participate in executions, they will be reported to the appropriate licensing boards for ethical violations. Plus PLN will publish their names.

Sources: Associated Press,, Seattle Weekly

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