April 17, 2024


The issue of American health professionals cooperating in legal executions has arisen again, this time in North Carolina. On April 21 61-year-old Willie Brown was executed for a murder he had committed 23 years before. To ensure that Mr Brown would not feel undue pain, thus violating his constitutional right not to suffer cruel and unusual punishment, the prison used a brain wave monitor. This enabled a doctor to determine that he was unconscious when he received an injection of paralytic and heart-stopping drugs. It was the first time that a monitor has been used in an American execution.

The technological fix was proposed by a judge hearing an appeal against the execution. He also required that medical personnel be involved. In North Carolina, a doctor and a registered nurse are supposed to observe the executions.

However, the American Medical Association’s code of ethics prohibits doctors from participating in executions. Even monitoring a brain wave machine is banned. The North Carolina Medical Board now plans to consider sanctions for doctors who participate in an execution.