Missouri Doctor Defends His Record in Lethal Injection Debate

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A surgeon at the center of Missouri's debate over lethal injection defended his medical record Monday and said he doubted the state can meet a judge's order that an anesthesiologist help with executions.

In his first public interview, Dr. Alan Doerhoff of Jefferson City told The Associated Press he has assisted in dozens of executions, saying he felt obligated to help since he'd received his education from the state.

"If the state needs my assistance, I'm more than willing to help," said Doerhoff, a self-described "country" surgeon who graduated from the University of Missouri medical school in 1969.

Doerhoff's role in Missouri executions emerged in June when he testified anonymously, and behind a screen, in a death penalty case challenging the state's lethal injection procedures.

That month, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. stopped executions, and ruled that the state needed a board-certified anesthesiologist to ensure the procedure used posed no risk of unnecessary pain and suffering.

The judge expressed concerns that Doerhoff, who was not identified in court papers, was dyslexic. The judge also said he worked under no written protocol in mixing the lethal drugs and overseeing the executions, despite his lack of training in anesthesiology.

Doerhoff, 62, now denies he is dyslexic, saying only that he sometimes transposes long numbers.

On Sunday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch identified Doerhoff, saying he'd been sued for malpractice more than 20 times and was publicly reprimanded by the Missouri Board of Healing Arts in 2003 for failing to disclose malpractice suits to a Jefferson City hospital where he had staff privileges.

Doerhoff told the AP: "We're in a malpractice crisis where doctors are sued lots of times. If you're working, you're going to get sued."

He said the omission of paperwork on his malpractice suits was an office manager's error and not an attempt to falsify his record. He said the reprimand did not affect his license and ability to practice medicine.

Healing Arts Executive Director Tina Steinman declined to address the specifics of the case Monday, but said that any time a license is disciplined, it is considered serious.

Doerhoff also doubts Missouri will find another doctor, much less a board-certified anesthesiologist, to assist in future executions. The risk of being identified is too great, he said, adding: "They won't want to be on the front pages of the newspaper."

Doerhoff said he performed prison surgeries from 1974 to 1999, has made medical trips to Latin America to help in poor communities, and currently is medical director for a skin care clinic.

He said he's ready to return to work in small hospitals. But he said with recent news coverage "nobody is going to hire me. It's poisoned my career."