Ohio State can't find doctors to offer execution advice Executions on hold while new lethal injection policies are devised

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio was on track this year to execute a record number of inmates. One botched execution and several lawsuits later, the death penalty is temporarily on hold.

The latest challenge: The state can't find medical professionals willing to advise it on the best way to put condemned inmates to death because of ethical and professional rules.

The rules -- which generally prohibit doctors, nurses and others from involvement in capital punishment -- are deterring those professionals from speaking publicly or privately about alternatives to the state's lethal injection process, Attorney General Richard Cordray said in a court filing.

"A small number of promising leads have emerged, but identifying qualified medical personnel willing and able to provide advice to the State regarding lethal injection options continues to be challenging and time-consuming," Cordray said in the Friday filing in U.S. District Court.

Executions have stopped while the state develops new injection policies following a Sept. 15 execution that was halted because the inmate had no suitable veins.

The state has reached out to judges, police and lawmakers for help in trying to find medical professionals willing to talk to the state, according to the filing written on Cordray's behalf by Charles Wille, head of Cordray's death penalty unit.

Cordray also said five lawmakers he didn't identify have agreed to try to find medical staff to help.

The state has a two-year, $33,200 contract with just one doctor, Mark Dershwitz of Massachusetts, a lethal injection expert who frequently testifies on behalf of states in lethal injection cases.

Dershwitz, an expert witness for Ohio at a March trial challenging the state's injection system, is the only doctor the state is currently talking to, said Julie Walburn, a prisons department spokeswoman.

Missouri encountered a similar problem in 2006 after a federal judge ordered the state to revamp its execution procedures, including using a board-certified anesthesiologist.

The Corrections Department met with resistance from anesthesiologists wary of crossing an ethical line that could cost them their practice.

The American Medical Association prohibits its members from participating in executions, including anything that would "contribute to the ability of another individual to directly cause the death of the condemned."

"The role of a physician is that of healer," Dr. Rebecca Patchin, the AMA board chairman, said Monday. "To be involved in capital punishment in any manner, even in an advisory capacity, undermines that role."

At least two emergency medical technicians have served on the Ohio execution team in the past, including the longtime executioner who retired in June. Prison nurses sometimes deliver prescription medicine to inmates awaiting execution.

The state was on course to execute a record eight inmates this year, up from seven in 2004, but has put to death just four.

Gov. Ted Strickland stopped the execution of Romell Broom after two hours when executioners failed to find a vein that was suitable for injection.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost delayed Broom's execution pending a hearing on the inmate's request that the state not be allowed to try to put him to death again.

Strickland, a Democrat, then granted five-month reprieves to inmates scheduled to die this month and next, and Frost delayed a December execution while the state revises its injection policies.

Among the changes the state is considering is injecting lethal drugs into inmates' bone marrow or muscles as an alternative to -- or a backup for -- the traditional intravenous execution procedure. Broom complained in an affidavit following the execution attempt that execution staff painfully hit muscle and bone at times during as many as 18 attempts to reach a vein.

Broom was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 14-year old girl in 1984.

Also Friday, the European Union asked Strickland to spare Broom and temporarily halt all executions in Ohio.