Monday, 21 May 2007

Is California's new "pain-free" lethal injection protocol even less humane?

by Mary Shaw

Lethal injection as a method of execution has been
under fire lately due to evidence that it doesn't always work as expected, and can cause a slow, excrutiatingly painful death. As a result, it has been put on hold in some states, including California.But now California is ready to crank open the execution chamber once again with a new lethal injection protocol.

According to an article last week in the LA Times, California is adjusting the dosages of the three-drug protocol and training prison staff "to ensure that inmates are thoroughly unconscious before the final painful drugs are given."However, per the LA Times article, "Under the new protocol, the state will administer less sodium thiopental -- 3 grams rather than 5, more pancuronium bromide -- 50 milligrams rather than 40, and less potassium chloride -- 200 milliliters rather than 240.

"Wait a minute!Under the new protocol, they will administer less sodium thiopental! That means less of the drug that renders the person unconscious so that he does not feel the pain caused by the potassium chloride!

Suddenly I feel like Alice in Wonderland. Is there a medical doctor out there who can explain this paradox to me?

That said, some death penalty supporters tell me that death row inmates deserve to suffer a slow and painful death. To them, I offer two points:

1. It's illegal. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly bars cruel and unusual punishment.

2. We can't be sure that we're not accidentally executing an innocent person who was wrongfully convicted. Don't believe me? Think the system is good enough to keep an innocent person from being executed? Then click here, and see why I hope that none of your loved ones will ever be convicted of a capital crime that he or she did not commit.

Amnesty weighs in In response to California's new lethal injection protocol, Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, issued the following insightful statement:

The recent announcement regarding California's revised lethal injection protocol demonstrates how far the state will go to preserve the myth that human beings can be exterminated "humanely". Like recent reports in Tennessee and Florida, California's report details the "improvements" that will be made to its lethal injection procedure. Predictably, the new protocols merely repackage the same old macabre practices.

The alleged "safeguards" do not mitigate any of the numerous ethical concerns surrounding the use of lethal injection.These attempts to tinker endlessly with the mechanism of execution are both misguided and futile. The real problems that plague the death penalty system transcend the method by which a person is put to death.

No matter how "sanitized" the execution process, the death penalty remains racially biased, carries the very real risk of executing the innocent and is arbitrary and capricious at its very core.

Tweaking the instruments of death is ultimately a distraction from the fact that politicians aren't effective in addressing violent crime. Given that many people are realizing the numerous ethical dilemmas surrounding this issue, the clear trend both nationally and internationally is to move away from the death penalty.

Now is not the time to attempt to streamline the execution process -- it is time to abandon this archaic and gruesome practice once and for all.

Amen, Larry.-----

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She currently serves as Philadelphia Area Coordinator for Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Unless otherwise noted, the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty or any other organization with which she may be associated.

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