Last November, the court began hearing arguments on what roles, if any, doctors should play in executions.
Previously, the North Carolina Medical Board did not want doctors to participate in executions. And if a doctor did, he or she could face disciplinary action.
According to the board, a doctor assisted execution violated a code of ethics that doctors must uphold. However, attorneys for the Department of Correction argued that doctors are needed during an execution to monitor an inmate's vital signs and to certify an inmate's death.
Lawyers for the state argued that a doctor should monitor an execution to prevent cruel or unusual punishment. But the medical board and the American Medical Association said state lawmakers wanted a doctor to be present but not actively participate.
The court ruled 4-3 that state law "by its plain language, envisions physician participation in executions in some professional capacity."
The ruling also said the Medical Board ethics position statement "directly contravenes the specific requirement of physician presence. ... because the position statement is an invalid exercise of defendant's statutory powers, we affirm the decision of the trial court."
Friday's ruling states that a doctor and a prison warden or deputy warden must be present at the time of execution. The ruling ends a more than two-year state moratorium on executions.