HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, June 23, 2006

More Humane Lethal Injections

The New York Times reports today on how doctors have worked to make lethal injections for death penalty inmates more humane.  The Times states,

. . . . medical experts say the current method of lethal injection could easily be changed to make suffering less likely. Even the doctor who devised the technique 30 years ago says that if he had it to do over again, he would recommend a different method.

Switching to an injection method with less potential to cause pain could undercut many of the lawsuits. But so far, in this chapter of the nation's long and tangled history with the death penalty, no state has moved to alter its lethal injection protocol.

At the core of the issue is a debate about which matters more, the comfort of prisoners or that of the people who watch them die. A major obstacle to change is that alternative methods of lethal injection, though they might be easier on inmates, would almost certainly be harder on witnesses and executioners.

With a different approach, death would take longer and might involve jerking movements that the prisoner would not feel but that would be unpleasant for others to watch.

The care and concern for the witnesses strikes me as a bit out-of-place.  The article discusses the pending lawsuits in many states concerning the current method of lethal injection and whether it is an unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.   In response to the lawsuits and these new techniques, the article says that some states may change their procedures to avoid future liabililty.  Overall, it is a rather depressing subject and I understand why many doctors refuse to participate in executions.  [bm]

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