Saturday, 19 May 2007

Lethal Injection Questioned

Lethal Injection Questioned

Charlotte Edwards

The death penalty has been a legal form of punishment in the United States since the late '70s.

The most commonly used method today is death by lethal injection. This method was considered to be the most humane way to take a life until recently.

Lethal injection was adopted by 37 states as a better alternative to methods such as the electric chair or gas chamber. Last year, 53 people in the United States were executed. All but one of these deaths was caused by lethal injection.

The lethal injection process involves the administration of three different drugs. The first drug administered is called Sodium Thiopental. The five-milligram dose is 14 times the typical dose. This usually renders the inmate unconscious within seconds.

The next drug in the deadly cocktail is Pancuronium Bromide. The inmate is administered 100 milligrams of this muscle relaxant and nerve inhibitor, which paralyzes him. The third drug, Potassium Chloride, stops the heart.

The intravenous drugs used to execute a prisoner do not always work as planned. These drugs are usually mixed and administered by a prison guard with little or no medical training. Typically, the IV is also inserted by someone with little training. Finding a suitable vein can also be a challenge, especially if the inmate has a history of drug abuse.

In December, at the Florida Department of Corrections, it took Angel Nieves Diaz 34 minutes to die. Staff watched as the inmate winced, seeming as though he were in pain. He gasped for air for 11 minutes before a second round of drugs was administered.

In his autopsy it was discovered that he had 11- and 12-inch chemical burns on his arms.

This means that the high concentration of drugs was not administered into his veins, but into the tissue, burning beneath his skin and causing an agonizing and slow death.

Any one of the three drugs administered in high doses should be able to kill a person. The anesthetic is there to keep the inmate unconscious while the other two do their job. The process takes about 11 to 14 minutes to complete-when everything is done correctly.

In "So Long as They Die," a recent Human Rights Watch publication, there are stories from the last 20 years where inmates' suffering was visible to witnesses. Many of these inmates took 40 minutes or longer before the execution process was complete.

This study shows cases of several inmates who required additional doses when the drugs did not work the first time. When the drugs are being administered, the inmate's weight, height and other factors are not taken into account. Every person is given the same dose.
Last year, in California, in the case of Michael Morales, a man convicted of raping and murdering a young girl, a federal judge ordered that doctors be there to assist in his execution.

The doctors refused and, as a result, legal arguments are still continuing. Doctors and anesthesiologists have a moral code that says they will use their skills to heal and not to harm.

Currently, 11 states have temporarily stopped using lethal injection because opponents are arguing that it is cruel and not as effective as originally believed.

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