As an execution team tried to find a vein during an unsuccessful lethal injection attempt, prison staff sought help from a doctor — a move generally discouraged by ethical and professional medical rules — federal court papers show.
Dr. Carmelita Bautista said in a deposition filed in U.S. District Court that she had never before been involved in an execution.
"No, because I am a doctor," she tells a lawyer questioning her. "We are supposed to help people who are sick. We're supposed to heal people as such as we can."
Bautista said she tried to insert an IV catheter into Romell Broom's foot during the execution attempt on Sept. 15 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. Gov. Ted Strickland postponed it after several hours because a useable vein could not be found.
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." Dr. Rebecca Patchin, its board chairman, has said that being involved in capital punishment in any manner undermines a doctor's role as a healer.
But some doctors feel it's ethically permissible to participate in executions because they are helping inmates avoid pain and ensuring a peaceful death, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center.
While Kentucky and Illinois rules say doctors shall not participate in executions, many states have "distant participation" by medical doctors to determine that death has occurred, Dieter said.
"A doctor is obviously close by. That's usually the limit of participation that may be ethically allowed," he said. "Even that's questionable. ... Now when something goes wrong, you can see where there might be intervention."
Reached at her home in West Virginia on Tuesday, Bautista said she is not part of Ohio's execution team and does not feel as though she assisted in the execution process.
"I was just called to help to see if I can find an IV site," said Bautista, who is not an American Medical Association member. "They just asked me if I can see an IV site, and I did not see any problem with that."
Bautista, who is on staff at Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, West Virginia, was deposed in October in a long-standing lawsuit in which several inmates challenge Ohio's three-drug death penalty protocol as unconstitutional.
In a separate U.S. District Court case, Broom's lawyers have argued that the state should not be permitted to try to execute him a second time. A federal judge is to hear arguments in the case on Monday.
Less than five minutes in cell
Bautista occasionally works at the infirmary at the Lucasville prison and was there when asked by the prison's health care administrator to help with Broom. She said in the deposition that she spent less than five minutes in his holding cell.
She said she had never before been to the Ohio death house and that she was unaware until that day that the state's executions took place at the prison. She said she told the nurse who escorted her to the death house that she was frightened.
"I was scared of going to that place. I told her, 'I'm so scared,'" Bautista said in the deposition. "Because she told me that there was this guy who they were trying to see if they can get an IV to be executed. That's why I'm scared."
Dieter said it seems Bautista had to make an "on-the-spot" decision on whether or not to assist.
"Obviously, they hadn't thought through this whole process, pulling in a doctor who didn't have much time to think about it," he said. "I think what this speaks to is, whatever is going to be done next, that it be fully explored."
A message seeking comment was left Tuesday afternoon for a prisons spokeswoman.
Ohio has put 32 people to death since 1999, when executions resumed in the state. It recently announced that it was revising its execution protocol to do away with the three-drug vein injection in favor of one drug IV, with a two-drug muscle injection as a backup.
Ohio said in a court filing in the lethal injection case last month it was having a hard time finding medical personnel willing to consult about alternatives to its lethal injection protocol because professional and ethical rules were deterring doctors from speaking publicly or privately.