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NC nurses examining policy on assisting in executions
Some nurses want license penalties for participation
Physician groups' opposition to doctors participating in death penalty executions has put a moratorium on prisoner executions in North Carolina for nearly a year, and now a group of nurses are following the lead of their state's physician licensing board. The nurses are asking their own licensing board to adopt an ethics policy that would prevent nurses from participating in carrying out death penalties.
"It is clearly against our code of ethics," Raleigh nurse Cynthia Gallion told the Associated Press (AP). Gallion has started a petition urging the nursing board to act along the lines of the North Carolina Medical Board, which in January issued a position statement that says doctors can lose their licenses to practice if they take any action that would:
The North Carolina Nurses Association (NCNA) has not come out in favor or opposition to the nurses' efforts to spur a position statement from the licensing board, but the president of the NCNA acknowledges that participation in executions is in opposition to the ethics of nursing.
"For the past five years, the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll has ranked nursing as the most honest and ethical of all professions," says Dennis Sherrod, EdD, RN, president of NCNA. "The American Nurses Association, of which the North Carolina Nurses Association is a constituent member, has a long history of opposing nurse participation in executions."
Additionally, Sherrod says, the NCNA "is a strong advocate for quality workplaces and quality patient care, and opposes any public or private entity mandating that nurses participate in executions as a requirement for employment."
Sherrod refers to prisons requiring that nurses participate in executions as part of their jobs. The NCNA, which does not license nor discipline nurses, once forbid nurse participation in executions, but eliminated that restriction several years ago, leaving the decision up to the individual nurse.
Solution lies in legislation, board says
The North Carolina Board of Nursing, however, has stated that it cannot discipline a nurse for participating in an execution unless the state legislature amends the Nursing Practice Act to prohibit nurse participation.
The state medical board, on the other hand, is authorized under state law to discipline physician members who violate its ethics policies, so no legislation was necessary for it to issue its policy statement.
The medical board's declaration in January that any doctor who participates in an execution violates medical ethics and could face sanction effectively shut down the state's capital punishment system; no executions have been carried out since then (as of the time Medical Ethics Advisor went to press). The issue has arisen again and been referred to the commission on standards and practices, which thus far has taken no action on it, according to Tina Gordon, the association's executive director.
State law does not require that a nurse attend an execution. However, court records and depositions from prison officials indicate that at least two nurses have been present at the past several executions.
"We are still exploring the situation and looking into our options," says Gail Pruett, RN, director of nursing education and practice for the NCNA. "I don't think we'll have anything [along the lines of a public policy] for a while."
[For more information, contact the North Carolina Nurses Association, 103 Enterprise St., Raleigh, NC 24607. Phone: (919) 821-4250.]