Monday, 5 November 2007

Don't rush to resume lethal injections

A Times Editorial

Published November 4, 2007

There is no reason to rush back into executions now that the Florida Supreme Court has given the state's lethal injection protocols the thumbs-up. The U.S. Supreme Court has a case before it that could render the lethal three-chemical cocktail used by Florida and most other death penalty states legally invalid. So it just makes good sense to wait for the nation's high court to rule before resuming executions.

On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court found that the lethal injection procedures in place in the state are constitutional and do not amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Florida's procedures have undergone various reviews and refinements since the botched execution of Angel Diaz in December.

Diaz's execution team pierced his vein and was forced to inject a second set of chemicals into his other arm, where again the drugs were pumped into Diaz's tissue rather than through his veins. Diaz took more than 30 minutes to die, and it is possible that he felt severe pain during the process but was unable to cry out due to the effects of pancuronium bromide, a paralytic drug that prevented movement.

If the anesthetic sodium pentothal is not administered correctly, an inmate may regain consciousness during the execution and experience pain from the two other lethal drugs. Yet, even after the state's protocol revisions, a qualified medical expert is not required to administer the drugs or evaluate an inmate's level of consciousness.

The state high court found it sufficient that the warden ensure unconsciousness by calling the inmate's name and shaking the inmate before proceeding with the administration of the pain-causing lethal drugs.

Now before the U.S. Supreme Court is Baze vs. Rees, a case out of Kentucky that challenges the use of the lethal three-drug cocktail, primarily because the paralyzing effects of pancuronium bromide can make it impossible to communicate pain. The high court has stayed three executions since it agreed to review the legality of lethal injection. But in Florida, both the state Department of Corrections and the state attorney general's office have indicated that they plan to move forward on executions despite the high court's actions.

What's the hurry? There are outstanding federal constitutional issues with direct implications for Florida, and the state should be willing to wait until those are resolved. Gov. Charlie Crist should place a moratorium on executions until the U.S. Supreme Court rules.

[Last modified November 3, 2007, 21:10:12]

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