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Lethal Doses of Politics

April 24th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

A new study has just been released by researchers at the University of Miami that provides yet more evidence that executions by lethal injection may, in many instances, be excruciatingly painful. (I posted at length a few weeks ago about good, bad and the really ugly of the issue.)

In order to examine the question of what was really going on with the cocktail of three drugs that was, at one time, thought to be a relatively painless, “humane” form of execution, the researchers looked at past executions in South Carolina and in California. They choose those two states, it seems, since some of the really high-volume execution states like Texas, refused to give them any information.

Although it wasn’t their main point, the researchers’ accounts of the high levels of secrecy surrounding the particulars of various states’ execution policies was one of the things I found troubling about the study. One would think that, with 11 states calling temporary halts to executions because of the controversy, now is the time to throw the doors open and let in some light. Unless, of course, those states have many more botched executions, than we suspected, and state politicians fear it won’t do much for their poll numbers, if the rest of us read about such things in our morning papers..

Yet, it stands to reason that, if we’re to make any kind of sense of the lethal injection problem—both legal and moral—the various state execution protocols and the results they’ve engendered, have to be laid out on the table.

The Washington Post and AP have written about the study and its findings.

Here’s some of what the AP had to say:

Even when administered properly, the three-drug lethal injection method appears to have caused some inmates to suffocate while they were conscious and unable to move, instead of having their hearts stopped while they were sedated, scientists said in a report published Monday by the online journal PLoS Medicine.

No scientific groups have ever validated that lethal injection is humane, the authors write. Medical ethics bar doctors and other health professionals from taking part in executions.

The study concluded that the typical “one-size-fits-all” doses of anesthetic do not take into account an inmate’s weight and other key factors. Some inmates got too little, and in some cases, the anesthetic wore off before the execution was complete, the authors found.

“You wouldn’t be able to use this protocol to kill a pig at the University of Miami” without more proof that it worked as intended, said Teresa Zimmers, a biologist there who led the study.

Posted in crime and punishment, Death Penalty | 18 Comments »

18 Responses

  1. John Vorburger Says:

    This is a bunch of garbage. These people are convicted murderers. Did tey show their victims any compassion. So what if they die a slow painfull death. Lets just go back to the electric chair and gas chamber

  2. richard locicero Says:

    It does show our ambivalence about the whole thing. There is something foolish – and creepy – about the search for a “Humane” Death Penalty. Maybe there is a reason thatg most of the civilized world (all of Europe for example) abolished it. None of this tinkering with “Painless” death over there.

  3. listener_on_the_sidelines Says:

    Had to go back and look at your earlier piece on this issue. Ran that cocktail by a teaching vet. Zimmers is right. You couldn’t ethically euthanize an animal with that mix.

    Whether the condemned showed their victims any compassion seems beside the point. Regardless of my own feelings on capital punishment, at the point of lethal injection, it’s not what they did, it’s what we do that seem important.

  4. Pokey Says:

    Suggestions from the Left??????
    Pokey is waiting with baited breath for an ACLU supporter (or liberal blogger) to provide a suggested HUMANE EXECUTION procedure. Pokey is ready to go along with anything you suggest as long as it has a time limit.

    But we all know that no suggestions will be forth coming, we all know this is a smoke screen to delay an execution.

  5. Woody Says:

    Maybe we could use the humane way of killing the unborn and just place a big suction device inside the execution room and suction off the arms, legs, head, etc. of the accused. Not a pretty sight, so shouldn’t one should be as concerned about its use on the unborn as much as criminals?

    We could let murderers die the same way that they killed their victims.

    Baseball bat beating to the head might be considered. Barry Bonds could be the executioner in California.

    Maybe we could let a woman nag a man to death. I think that’s happening to me very slowly.

    There’s no mystery as to how to anaesthetise someone for surgry. Do the same for the criminal as for brain surgery, but leave a giant sponge in or don’t sew him up.

    There’s no pretty way to do it, but the current ways will have to suffice until they accept my suggestions or someone comes up with a better way.

  6. listener_on_the_sidelines Says:

    I’m not ‘on the left’ but I’m all for using a protocol that has at least passed an IRB for use in animals.

  7. richard locicero Says:

    I’m not going to get into the question of “Humane” Executions but when you consider that one Death Row inmate in ten has been exonerated (by DNA among other things) then some of the squemishness over this procedure is understandable. Since we are human, and therfore fallible, it is something to think about. Unless you’re a sociopath like the occupant of the WH who insists that noone was executed on his watch in Texas who didn’t deserve it. Despite evidence to the contrary and the slapdash way his “Clemency” guy (named Gonzales) spent less than ten minutes per case. But don’t ask him – he can’t recall anything!

  8. listener_on_the_sidelines Says:

    Fair point, rl.

  9. Pokey Says:

    Below are the two women that GW executed in Texas – You Decide???

    Bettie Beets
    Bettie Beets was sentenced to die for the 1983 murder of fifth husband Jimmy Don Beets, but she was also charged, but never tried, in the killing of fourth husband Doyle Barker.

    In 1985, police, acting on an anonymous tip, found the bodies of the two men buried in the yard of Beets’ mobile home in Gun Barrel City, Texas. Both had been shot in the head execution-style.

    She denied murdering the men, but her children testified against her.

    Karla Faye Tucker
    During Tucker’s trial, a tape recording was played on which she claimed that she had multiple orgasms during the killings.

    Her last words — “Yes sir, I would like to say to all of you – the Thornton family and Jerry Dean’s family that I am so sorry…” – she had become a Christian in prison.

  10. Woody Says:

    I like Pokey. He/she has more time to research than do I, who just has to shoot from the hip. Thanks, Poke.

  11. richard locicero Says:

    Don’t know about Bettie but Karla Fay is an interesting case. No, she wasn’t innocent. No question that she did it. But her conversion to Christ so impressed some people that pleas for clemency came from the likes of Falwell and Robertson. Now I won’t argue that Bush was wrong to pass on these requests but there is a very revealing bit that appeared in an article in the WEEKLY STANDARD by Tucker Carlson (no relation). He discussed the Karla Fay case with Bush who did something that Carlson found strange. Mimicing Tucker and complete with smirk Bush started pleading, sotto voice, “Please Don’t kill me!” “Hee! Hee!”

    Sound adult to you? But then this is the guy that calls his top political advisor “TurdBlossem!”

    And he was the one making the final decision. Lest you think that an aberation see his response to a question during the third Presidential Debate in 2000 when Gore advocated a need for a Federal Hate Crimes Bill. He cited the case of that bl.ack guy dragged to death by three rednecks behind their truck. Bush opposed such a law (I do too, by the way) and pointed out that the culprits hads been sentenced to death. But that’s not what he said. Smirking again he turned to the camera and said “And NOW THEY”RE GONNA DIE!” with an expression that really chilled me out.

    But then again, executions used to be spectator sports.

    It takes all kinds.

  12. Pokey Says:

    HATE CRIMES are legislated and dispensed by politicians eager to award symbolic attention and protection to particular interest groups.

    These are laws to punish socially unacceptable IDEAS whether actual or perceived.

    The law declares that criminals motivated by a government-designated set of ideas deserve special prosecution and additional punishment.

    Why should a person be punished more for assaulting a person with a gender identity issue more than for assaulting a pregnant elderly atheist?

    Under such a system, anything goes. The entire criminal justice apparatus can be used as a political tool by whatever faction happens to be in power. Crimes can be whitewashed if done for the “correct” political motives, while extra punishment can be meted out to those with “incorrect” motives.

    If a man can be sentenced to additional years in prison simply for his ideas — then, why can’t someone be punished solely for his ideas?

    Punishing socially unacceptable ideas should be abhorrent to a free society.

    H.R. 1592: Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007

  13. Raven Says:

    Why don’t we just TERRI them? AKA death by dehydration…it was humane after all, right? Let them go 13 days with no water, fluids and food. Hey they might live many more days than Terri did.

  14. Woody Says:

    I wonder how this site would have covered Terri Schievo?

  15. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Woody, I don’t know how I’d have covered it. I hope I’d have tried to make sense of the situation, apart from the politics.

    By the end of it, I felt like I wanted to put a pox on all their houses. (Not the parents, but everyone surrounding them.) I’d not want to be kept alive in her state—yet if she genuinely had a shot at recovery…

    The more I read, the more I didn’t think so.

    I hope to heaven I never have to make a decision like that for a loved one. I identified with the parents, frankly. I don’t know how I’d be, had I been in their shoes.

    Personally, if I have to die prematurely, I’d prefer to go out the way Virginia Tech professor, Liviu Lebrescu, did. He, of course, was the 76-year-old who was killed while blocking the classroom door with his own body to keep the shooter out, while every one of his students were able to escape to safety.

  16. Woody Says:

    If I had to die prematurely, I’d rather be shot by a guy who caught me in bed with his 22 year old wife.

  17. "reg" Says:

    Public execution is the only acceptable mode of a death penalty. Any death penalty supporter who doesn’t support public execution is a hypocrite. The guillotine is probably the most painless form of execution and it’s also quite dramatic. It was invented by a physician to kill the most quickly. If we’re going to have a death penalty this is clearly the preferred form, assuming pain is a problem (which it obviously isn’t for some.) Holding up the severed head to show the crowd – and the cameras (because no execution could be considered “public” in contemporary society unless it’s televised) – would be a nice touch. This is the best way to make the death penalty actually do what it’s supposed to do – scare the bejeezus out of anyone who’s prone to commit murder and give society a satisfactory sense of vengeance for the victims. Anything less is a fraud. (Long hanging is a pretty good second for swift death. Slow garroting or short hanging would probably be the preferred method if serious death penalty supporters relinquised any hypocrisy factor at all and went for a more painful and protracted spectacle. I would also suggest that the victim’s family be given first crack at pulling the lever.)

    Of course, only ignorant and incoherent types support an erratically-enforced, delayed-by-appeals death penalty in a modern judicial context that attempts to sanitize itself, but also has “tiers” of effective and pro-active defense – because there’s absolutly no empirical evidence that our death penalty has a deterrent effect and much evidence that it’s applied with a large measure of discrimination against certain classes of murder suspects. And this is the only kind of death penalty that even the yahoos can bring themselves to publicly support – or tinker with on the margins. Anything significantly bloodier and blunter as an instrument of “justice” is politically, morally and judicially unacceptable to a modern society.

    It’s also extemely unlikely a death penalty that cast a wider net – including the requisite number of innocent or incapacitated people swept up in the thirst for swift vengeance – wouldn’t have as much of an “uncivilizing” negative blowback effectively canceling out any more potent deterrence that might be derived by making it dramatically more visible and more difficult for convicted murderers to escape.

    As a footnote, the notion that anyone who calls themselves “Christian” would support or promote the death penalty is a source of great amusement to me. And probably to God. But, of course, one of the markers for rampant lack of any moral sense is loud, public proclamations of one’s “Christian” values attached to rightwing talking points. This is the sector of our culture where the frauds and phonies literally leap out of the woodwork.

  18. Jake Says:

    The French had a very successful way of executing people. I don’t know if a person felt it or not, but it was very quick. The Arabs have demonstrated the same propensity to a quick execution. It would appear that if we continue to give in to the terrorists by giving up, it wont be too long before America and the rest of the world will get the chance to see more of those quick, efficient executions.

    However, Woody was close to the truth when he spoke about the nagging issue and of course we could force the inmates to play golf, which for those of you who don’t know has the capacity of driving people mad and we could do away with execution altogether.

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