Wednesday, 14 February 2007
Executioner Needs Precise Training In Carrying Out Lethal Injections
Published: Feb 13, 2007
The latest bombshell in the botched execution of Angel Nieves Diaz is the public discovery that Florida's executioner had limited training in carrying out the death penalty, further evidence that the Department of Corrections under Gov. Jeb Bush was a complete mess.
A commission examining the state's missteps in executing Diaz, who took 34 minutes and multiple injections to die, last week heard from the executioner that he had received no medical training in his seven years on the job. The commission also was told the death chamber is so poorly configured that the executioner, who commands the process from behind a screen, can't fully see the condemned inmate.
Given what we now know about how Florida administers the death penalty, it's a good thing that Bush suspended executions until the commission completes its report and makes its recommendations.
It's hard to grasp how the state got itself in such a spot. Florida switched to lethal injections in 2000 after two high-profile mishaps with the electric chair. Government officials knew legal challenges would follow, but it appears the former governor was so focused on prison privatization efforts that he failed to ensure the prison system, which has been beset with charges of corruption, properly performed its duties.
Administering a lethal injection requires a good amount of training. First, a technician must properly insert an intravenous line, then administer a three-drug cocktail just right. The first drug sedates the condemned inmate. The second is a paralytic agent so no pain is felt. The third stops the inmate's heart.
While licensed medical personnel attend the execution, they do not participate in the actual delivery of lethal chemicals and that is how it should be. The American Medical Association forbids doctors from participating in executions and most medical professionals take oaths preventing them from doing harm.
In Diaz's case, however, it appears the nurse either improperly threaded the needle into his arm or somehow the needle punctured Diaz's vein in the Dec. 13 incident. When the executioner administered the drugs, the chemicals traveled into Diaz's flesh instead of his bloodstream, where they would have reached his heart more quickly.
The commission has been told that medical personnel were consulting with the executioner as the procedure went awry. Since the executioner wasn't trained to make the crucial medical decisions, the confusion forced medical personnel to have more of a hand in the execution than they should have.
By the time it became clear the drugs were not working as expected, the executioner administered more chemicals, this time skipping the paralytic agent.
The executioner is the person in charge during an execution and by virtue of that responsibility must be properly trained in all aspects of the procedure. But a lack of preparation is seen not only in Florida, but also in California, Maryland and other states where reviews have found a lack of standards in carrying out lethal injections.
Florida has a duty to carry out executions with exactness. But its slip-shod record invites legal challenges that depict the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment.
Given what we now know about the training given the state's executioner, such challenges would be justified.