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Physician Assisted in Botched Execution Attempt in Ohio

by Matt Clarke

On September 5, 2009, guards at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville prepared for an onerous task – executing state prisoner Romell Broom. They tried for two hours to find a usable vein in which to inject the three-drug lethal injection cocktail. Unable to find one, they called in a doctor to assist.

The Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians begins with the Latin words “Primum non nocere,” which translate to “first do no harm.” Taking that vow seriously, the American Medical Association (AMA) prohibits its members from participating in any form or fashion in executions – since helping to kill someone is indisputably doing harm. But it is a meaningless ban since the AMA has no means to enforce it or discipline those doctors who participate in executions.
However, some doc-tors believe it is acceptable to assist in executions, in order to help prisoners avoid pain and ensure a peaceful death. To the extent that being forcibly killed by the state can be considered peaceful, that is.

Dr. Carmelita Bautista, the physician called in to assist during Broom’s execution, was not an AMA member. She was on the staff of Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, West Virginia, and occasionally worked in the prison’s in-firmary. She later said that she did not even know executions took place at the facility before receiving the request for assistance.
Nonetheless, once called she agreed to help during the execution, though she didn’t consider herself part of the execution team.

“I was just called to help see if I can find an IV site,” Bautista stated. “They just asked me if I can see an IV site, and I did not see any problem in that.” She said she spent less than five minutes in Broom’s cell and tried to insert an IV into his foot before giving up on finding a usable vein. Governor Ted Strickland then issued a one-week reprieve so prison officials could take “appropriate next steps” to be used during their next attempt to execute Broom.

Dr. Bautista emphasized that she was rushed into an immediate on-the-spot decision, and despite her willing assistance she was afraid to enter death row. “I was scared of going into that place. I told [the nurse escorting me into the death house] ‘I’m so scared,’” she said in a deposition. “Because she told me that there was this guy who they were trying to see if they can get an IV to be executed.”

Despite her fears and the rushed nature of her decision, Dr. Bautista has not stopped working at the prison nor has she announced that she will not participate in future executions.

Broom is pursuing legal action in U.S. District Court seeking to prevent the state from trying to execute him again. That case remains pending, and as of July 15, 2010, Broom remained on death row. See: Broom v. Strickland, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio), Case No. 2:09-cv-00823-GLF-MRA.

Meanwhile, Ohio officials announced they will do away with the three-drug IV execution protocol in favor of a single drug given by IV and two drugs administered via intramuscular injection as a backup when usable veins cannot be found.

Sources: Associated Press, www.cbsnews.com

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