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Ohio EMT Board Ducks Death-Penalty Flap

Editor's Note:Read "Between Blackk & White: The gray area of ethics in EMS" for a continuing education article that discusses ethics in EMS, including participating in state and federal executions.

The Ohio EMS board has no authority over the emergency medical technicians who administer lethal drugs in state executions.

That's the opinion board lawyer Heather R. Frient made public yesterday during the board's meeting.

Board members asked Frient to determine whether these technicians were under their jurisdiction. Under state law, intermediate EMTs are not authorized to work with these drugs.

But these technicians are an exception, Frient said.

"They do not appear to be acting as EMTs in the performance of their execution duties," she wrote in the opinion.

The issue was first brought up by Dr. Jonathan Groner, a pediatric surgeon at Nationwide Children's Hospital and former board member.

Groner said his concern was prompted by the testimony of two intermediate EMTs in a federal case filed by an Ohio Death Row inmate challenging lethal injection.

The case, filed in 2004, is pending.

Frient said these technicians:

* Don't "represent themselves" as EMTs on the execution team.

* Don't wear clothes that identify them as emergency-medical workers.

* Don't work under a physician's direction.

But in court documents, the EMTs testified that they have certificates issued by the EMS division, take continuing education classes and keep up with all state requirements.

Groner said he was disappointed with the opinion.

"When you obtain medical-profession skills -- a doctor, nurse or EMT -- those skills you use to help people should never be used to harm people," said Groner, who opposes the death penalty.

The procedure that state officials follow during executions states that the lethal drugs should be given by a "person qualified under Ohio law to administer medications."

In Ohio, physicians, nurses and paramedics working under a doctor's order are allowed to administer these drugs.

State corrections officials have said they would not ask physicians or nurses to be involved in executions because it conflicts with their oaths to preserve lives.

"The EMS board is put in the position where it does not think EMTs are as professional as other medical professions," Groner said.

The governor is satisfied with the execution process.

"He believes the system established and carried out by (the Department of Corrections) is appropriate," said spokeswoman Allison Kolodziej.

Mark Burgess, EMS board chairman, said he agreed with the opinion because "there are times when we don't have jurisdiction."

He said hospitals often hire paramedics, teach them new skills and call them surgical technicians, for example.

"And we don't have jurisdiction over them," he said. "They're not functioning as a paramedic."

The board didn't challenge or disagree with the opinion, though one member said the discussion might not be over.

"I think it may be something we've got to look at closer," said William Quinn, who represents the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters on the board.

"It appears to open a Pandora's box."

shoholik@dispatch.com

Resources

NAEMTs EMT Code of Ethics

"Integrity & Ethics"

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