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.
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.