Full disclosure: I am against the death penalty in all circumstances, so take this with a grain of salt.
In this case, the judge is reacting to challenges which have recently arisen as to whether lethal injection is "cruel and unusual." The crux of the question is whether the prisoner experiences pain during the execution process.
(By the way, I predict that this is going to be a huge
issue in the death penalty debate. The lethal injection method of execution, if anything, would appear to be the most painless method currently being used. Expect other methods to face similar challenges.)
At this point, no doubt some supporters of the death penalty will dismiss the issue of pain during execution as trivial. Some may hope that the prisoner experiences as much pain as possible. Be that as it may, it seems likely that courts are going to insist that execution be painless.
The judge in this case is trying to make 100% sure that the prisoner is fully unconscious at the time of execution. This requires the judgement of a medical professional. It does not
require that the medical professional actually carry out the execution itself; however, it does require that they be willing to advise the prison officials of the state of the prisoner's consciousness. Apparently, the two anesthesiologists assigned to witness the execution were not willing to do this, even if they were not to be directly involved in the execution process itself.Link
The anesthesiologists were brought in because of a ruling last week by a federal judge considering whether the state's injection protocol might be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. The doctors backed out after learning they might have to advise the executioner if the inmate woke up or appeared to suffer pain.
After they refused, the judge offered the state the chance to use a one-drug method of execution (the drug which causes unconsciousness) instead of the usual three-drug method (using two drugs which cause death after the first drug causes unconsciousness.) Since this is a method which has never been used before
, it seems reasonable that it be administered by a medical professional.