April 27, 2007
Lethal injections may be ruled as unconstitutional
Researchers say executions cause painful, slow death
By Courtney Burks, The California Aggie
Cruel and unusual punishment may be the cause of death for those who are
subject to lethal injections, as a recent study on prisoner execution showed
that the current drug protocol could cause suffocation. On Apr. 24,
researchers at the University of Miami Miller School Of Medicine reported
their findings that lethal injections in the United States may lead to death
by chemical asphyxiation.
According to researchers, the chemicals that are currently used to execute
prisoners on death row subject offenders to a death that can be ruled as
inhumane - as opposed to quick and painless. The three chemicals used in
lethal injections include substances that induce anesthesia, paralysis and
respiratory arrest, or stopping of the heart.
Teresa Zimmers, research assistant professor of surgery at the University of
Miami and head author of the report, said in a press release that the drug
combination in lethal injection executions does not hold any clinical
precedence, was not sufficiently tested on lab animals before official use
and has led to delayed executions - making it a possibly insufficient means
for implementing the death penalty.
"We concluded that the original design of the lethal injection drug protocol
itself is flawed," Zimmers said. "The drug protocol is based on little
clinical and scientific data and contradicts clinical veterinary practice."
The study also indicates a problem with the delivery of the injections,
citing that doctors and nurses do not perform the procedures, but rather
volunteers with unreleased qualifications.
Dr. Leonidas Koniaris, associate professor of surgery at the University of
Miami who is also a senior author of the research findings, said those in
favor of the death penalty or lethal injection are misled into thinking that
the procedures are unproblematic.
"The reason that people support lethal injection is because they perceive it
to be a humane medical procedure," he said. "Here we provide more evidence
that it is anything but that."
Dr. Jeffery Uppington, anesthesiologist for the UC Davis Health System, said
the state of California wishes to employ board-certified anesthesiologists
for the executions in order to ensure the inmate is unconscious when
injected with painful drugs. He said the constitutionality of such a topic
is a question that should be left to the judicial system.
"It's a hugely controversial subject when it comes to a physician's
involvement in lethal injections," Uppington said. "There have been many
ethical debates about it."
The report indicates conclusions that the researchers may view as unlawful
and in violation of the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual
"Our findings suggest that current lethal injection protocols may not
reliably affect death through the mechanisms intended, indicating a failure
of design and implementation,
could die through asphyxiation. Thus, the conventional view of lethal
injection leading to an invariably peaceful and painless death is
Source : The California Aggie (COURTNEY BURKS can be reached at