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N.C. Opinions: Greensboro

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The hurry for executions

From an editorial Sunday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:

Mike Easley let 27 executions proceed during his eight years as governor. That’s the modern record, more than doubling the 13 that took place during Jim Hunt’s 16 years in office.

There were three while Jim Martin was governor and none during Bev Perdue’s tenure.

Where will Gov. Pat McCrory stand? If he signs the capital punishment bill that will be presented to him soon, he might smash Easley’s mark — especially if he serves two terms.

The legislature wants to speed up executions in North Carolina and clear the backlog of 152 offenders on Death Row as quickly as possible. Its bill would do that in three ways:

It eliminates the Racial Justice Act, which let inmates contest their death sentences on the basis of racial bias. The bill was flawed, allowing such a broad use of statistical “evidence” that almost everyone on Death Row who filed petitions for review might have been considered victims of discrimination.

It puts executions on a fast track, mandating firm dates once appeals run out or defendants miss key deadlines for filing new motions. This haste will increase the risk of fatal errors.

And, in a breathtaking move, it overrides the medical profession’s ethical standards regarding physician participation in executions.

The American Medical Association says a physician “should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution.” In 2007, the N.C. Medical Board adopted the position that it could discipline physicians who took part in executions. The state challenged that policy in court and won, as judges cited a 1909 law requiring physicians to attend executions to certify death.

The bill passed last week goes much further. “Any assistance rendered with an execution” by any medical professional cannot bring about disciplinary consequences, the bill says.

The legislation allows a physician, nurse or pharmacist to administer a lethal injection, contradicting the ethical standards of their professions. It’s an extraordinary step by a legislature to assert its judgment regarding medical matters over that of medical organizations themselves.

When this bill arrives on his desk, McCrory should consider two questions.

Does he want to side with the legislature against the American Medical Association and N.C. Medical Board?

And, does he really want to break Easley’s record and become North Carolina’s leading execution governor of modern times?

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