[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- USA
j_sommer at gmx.net
Thu Apr 14 18:19:57 CDT 2005
death penalty news
April 14, 2005
Execution by injection far from painless
Execution by lethal injection may not be the painless procedure most
Americans assume, say researchers from Florida and Virginia.
They examined post-mortem blood levels of anaesthetic and believe that
prisoners may have been capable of feeling pain in almost 90% of cases and
may have actually been conscious when they were put to death in over 40% of
Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated in the US, 788 people
have been killed by lethal injection. The procedure typically involves the
injection of three substances: first, sodium thiopental to induce
anaesthesia, followed by pancuronium bromide to relax muscles, and finally
potassium chloride to stop the heart.
But doctors and nurses are prohibited by healthcare professionals' ethical
guidelines from participating in or assisting with executions, and the
technicians involved have no specific training in administering anaesthetics.
"My impression is that lethal injection as practiced in the US now is no
more humane than the gas chamber or electrocution, which have both been
deemed inhumane," says Leonidas Koniaris, a surgeon in Miami and one of the
authors on the paper. He is not, he told New Scientist, against the death
penalty per se.
But Kyle Janek, a Texas senator and anaesthesiologist, and a vocal advocate
of the death penalty, insists that levels of anaesthetic are more than
adequate. He says that an inmate will typically receive up to 3 grams -
about 10 times the amount given before surgery. "I can attest with all
medical certainty that anyone receiving that massive dose will be under
anaesthesia," he said in a recent editorial.
The authors of the new study argue that it is simplistic to assume that 2
to 3 grams of sodium thiopental will assure loss of sensation, especially
when the people administering it are unskilled and the execution could last
up to 10 minutes. They also point out that people on death row are
extremely anxious and their bodies are flooded with adrenaline - so would
be expected to need more of the drug to render them unconscious.
Without adequate anaesthesia, the authors say, the person being executed
would experience asphyxiation, a severe burning sensation, massive muscle
cramping and cardiac arrest - which would constitute the "cruel and
unusual" punishment expressly forbidden by the US constitution's Eighth
Koniaris's team collected post-mortem data on blood levels of sodium
thiopental in 49 executed inmates. They found that levels varied
dramatically - from mere trace amounts to 370 milligrams per litre -
despite using the same execution protocol and the same blood sampling
"Perverted medical practice"
If these post-mortem concentrations reflect levels during execution, the
authors say, 43 of the 49 inmates studied were probably sentient, and 21
may have been "fully aware". Because a muscle relaxant was used to paralyse
them, however, inmates would have been unable to indicate any pain.
Ironically, US veterinarians are advised not to use neuromuscular blocking
agents while euthanising animals precisely so they can recognise when the
anaesthesia is not working.
People in the US assume that lethal injection is highly medicalised, and
therefore humane, says Koniaris. "But when you look at it critically, it's
anything but medical," he says. "It's a perverted medical practice."
He says the people carrying it out are unskilled, the procedure is not
monitored - the executioners step behind a curtain when delivering the
lethal drugs - and there is no follow-up to ensure that everything worked
Journal reference: The Lancet (vol 365, p 1412)
(source: New Scientist)
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