Raleigh Parish Hosts Panel Discussion of ‘Doctors in the Death Chamber’

Joseph Wolyniak Around the Province

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi here sponsored “Doctors in the Death Chamber”, a Dec. 12 panel discussion of the state’s death penalty that featured five of top experts on the subject. 

Capital punishment has been a hotly contested issue in North Carolina for decades. The past few months have been marked by a particularly lively quarrel.

Being debated is whether physicians can and should participate in state-sanctioned executions. The North Carolina Medical Board and the state are battling out their differences legally and in the court of public opinion. 

The Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace-sponsored event brought five renowned experts to the church: State Minority Leader Rep. Paul Stam (R- 37th District); Elizabeth Kanoff, past president of the N.C. Medical Board and N.C. Medical Society; Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby; medical ethicist Kathleen Joyce of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill; and James Cooney, a well-known attorney who represented Alan Gell, a death row inmate who was acquitted in 2004 in a highly publicized case. Stam is a leading proponent of the death penalty in the state; Kanoff is the physician that initiated and drafted the N.C Medical Board’s opposition. 

Catholic Social Teaching Discussed 

While the discussion was primarily focused on the particular dynamic of physician participation, about a third of the event was related to issues surrounding the death penalty more generally. Issues like deterrence and the diminished murder rates in states without the death penalty were discussed. The forum provided an opportunity for Catholic social teaching and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ stated stance on the issue to be clearly articulated and brought into conversation with various other positions in the public square.

The Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace of St. Francis did a terrific job of presenting the church’s teaching on the death penalty and creating a forum of differing perspectives that led to mature conversation, rather than simply sound bites, said Mark Reamer, OFM, pastor at St. Francis. David McBriar, OFM, associate pastor, added: “The event was one of the most outstanding events I have witnessed here at St. Francis. The conversation was at the highest level, with differences of opinion expressed strongly yet civilly. The audience participation was rich.”

One of the participants said, “Congratulations. I only wish more Catholic parishes offered this kind of enlightened discussion of contemporary issues that hit at the very heart of human dignity.”

Video and audio recordings of the event will be available on the coalition’s Web site.

— Joseph Wolyniak is Advocacies Ministry Coordinator at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Raleigh.