CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Inmates Put To Death May Be Cruelly and Unusually Suffering

From Inmates put to death by lethal injection are supposed to die quickly and painlessly, but they actually might suffocate aware and in agony, a team of researchers concluded in a study released Monday.

In the report in the online publication "PloS Medicine," the eight-member team said the lethal drug cocktail used by dozens of states, including Florida, is flawed because the mixture doesn't necessarily work as intended.

"The reason that polls show most people support lethal injection is because they believe it is a humane medical procedure," said Teresa Zimmers, lead author of the study and a molecular biologist at the University of Miami's Leonard Miller School of Medicine. "We provide more evidence that it might be anything but. There's no question it's not a medical procedure. That is a sham."

Under the lethal-injection protocol, which Florida and most states copied from Oklahoma, three drugs are meant to work in combination to render inmates unconscious and then cause death by respiratory and cardiac arrest. Each drug is also supposed to be lethal on its own.

But the researchers, who analyzed drug dosages and the time between injection and death in 42 executions in North Carolina and eight in California, found that the first drug, an ultra-fast-acting barbiturate, might not be fatal or sufficient to keep inmates unconscious for the duration of their executions.

They also found that the third and final drug, potassium chloride, did not always induce cardiac arrest as intended. As a result, the researchers said, potentially aware inmates might die through painful asphyxiation induced by the second drug, pancuronium, which paralyzes the muscles. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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