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 anesthetic 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 cases.
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 anesthesia, 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 anesthetics.
“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.
It’s time to subcontract this chore, for efficiency and economy.