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Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. – The North Carolina Medical Board overstepped its authority by threatening to punish physicians for participating in executions, a judge ruled Friday, striking down a policy that effectively triggered a moratorium on the state’s death penalty.
Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said state law does not grant the medical board the right to prohibit doctors from assisting in executions.
“Although the current effort by the medical board to prohibit physician participation in executions may well be viewed as humane and noble, such a decision rests entirely with (elected officials),” Stephens wrote. “As of this date, the legislature has taken no such action.”
Stephens also ruled that executions are not a medical procedure.
The medical board, which licenses and disciplines doctors in North Carolina, threatened in January to punish any doctor who takes an active role in an execution. State law requires that a doctor be present during a lethal injection, and a federal judge demanded last year that a doctor oversee the process of putting an inmate to death.
Dale Breaden, a spokesman for the medical board, wouldn’t comment on the ruling, saying officials will discuss the details at their next meeting in mid-October.
“This is something we have to study to decide what reaction would be appropriate and what actions would be appropriate,” Breaden said.
The state had revised its lethal injection process in an attempt to satisfy the judge, requiring that a physician monitor “the essential body functions of the condemned inmate” and notify the warden if the inmate shows signs of “undue pain and suffering.”
Stephens’s action could be the first step toward untangling what Gov. Mike Easley has called a “Gordian knot” that has prevented North Carolina from executing a condemned inmate since August 2006. In the past year, the debate over the death penalty has involved at least two state agencies, several courts, the medical board and the Council of State, made up of Easley and nine other statewide elected officials.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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