Administering the Death Penalty

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Administering the Death Penalty

Not only does our legal system have serious problems in applying the death penalty on the legal level, it appears it has problems literally applying the death penalty itself
Researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine analyzed execution protocol information from Texas and Virginia, which account for about 45 percent of executions in the United States. They found that executioners had no training in anesthesia; the drugs were administered remotely with no monitoring of the anesthesia; and there was no data collection, no documentation of anesthesia, and no post-procedure peer review.

The authors also analyzed toxicology reports from 49 prisoners executed in Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. In 43 of the 49 cases, the authors found blood concentrations of the anesthetic sodium thiopental were lower than that required for surgery. In 21 cases, the concentrations were low enough to be consistent with awareness on the part of the prisoner during execution.
Why is that a problem?
The authors concluded that prisoners executed by lethal injection may have experienced awareness and unnecessary suffering as they died because they weren't properly sedated. Anesthesia during lethal injection is essential to minimize the prisoner's suffering.

Lethal injection involves sequential administration of sodium thiopental for anesthesia, pancuronium bromide to induce paralysis, and then potassium chloride to stop the heart and cause death. If anesthesia wasn't used, the condemned prisoner would suffocate and experience excruciating pain without being able to move.
Since the humane nature of lethal injection was supposed to put the nation's mind at ease regarding the death penalty, perhaps those responsible for administering it should be a little more diligent in ensuring that death itself is ... you know ... actually somewhat humane.

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