Saturday, 5 April 2008

Lethal Injection Procedures Violate Veterinary Standards in Almost Every State, Study Finds


Elisabeth Semel, Director

Ty Alper, Associate Director

For Immediate Release Contacts:

April 4, 2008 Ty Alper, 510-643-7849 (w), 510-593-4227 (c)

Laura Burstein, 202-457-7118

Lethal Injection Procedures Violate Veterinary Standards in Almost Every State, Study Finds

Same Concerns Raised in Current Lethal Injection Challenges Led to Passage of Strict Animal Euthanasia Regulations Decades Ago

The vast majority (97.6%) of lethal injection executions in this country have taken place in states that have banned, for use in animal euthanasia, the same drugs that are used in those states during executions, according to a study to be published this spring in the Fordham Urban Law Journal. An exhaustive review of state laws and regulations concluded that animal euthanasia statutes in 42 states ban, either implicitly or explicitly, the use of paralyzing drugs like those used in lethal injections.

"The very same state legislatures that have decided it would be dangerous and cruel to paralyze animals during the euthanasia process have allowed such a procedure to become routine in human lethal injections," said the study’s author, Ty Alper, Associate Director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

The study, to be published in May in an article entitled Anesthetizing the Public Conscience: Lethal Injection and Animal Euthanasia, contends that previous compilations of states that banned paralyzing drugs in animal euthanasia significantly under-counted the total number. By tracking down administrative regulations in several states, the study was able to establish that almost every state either explicitly prohibits paralyzing drugs in animal euthanasia or mandates an anesthetic-only procedure that does not involve a paralytic. In fact, virtually all of the 9.6 million animals euthanized each year are put to death using a one-drug, anesthetic-only procedure that is simple enough to be used by animal shelter workers who are not trained in veterinary medicine.

The study answers a question raised during oral argument in the Baze v. Rees case currently pending in the United States Supreme Court. Several of the justices wondered aloud why states had passed laws banning paralyzing drugs in animal euthanasia, and what the relevance of those laws was to the current lethal injection debate. "The answer is that these laws were passed due to the very same concerns about paralyzing drugs that are being raised in lethal injection challenges," says Alper.












"Veterinarians and animal welfare advocates were concerned that any euthanasia procedure that involved the paralyzation of the animal risked exposing the animal to conscious suffering and excruciating pain."

Advocates for death row inmates have raised challenges to the three-drug formula used in lethal injections, in large part because of the second drug used in the procedure. This drug, pancuronium bromide, paralyzes the inmate, rendering him unable to cry out or indicate in some way if the first drug, the anesthetic, has not been administered properly. Thus, there is serious concern that, if the prison officials do not properly administer the anesthesia, inmates will suffer both the conscious suffocation caused by the paralyzing drug and the excruciating pain of the third drug, potassium chloride – all without indicating any observable distress.

"We found that the same concerns animated the animal euthanasia laws," says Alper. For example, the study cites a 1987 letter from an animal rights advocate in Connecticut, urging the state legislature not only to mandate lethal injection for animal euthanasia, but to specifically ban paralyzing drugs. "Please do not assume that the phrase ‘lethal injection’ is adequate to prevent the animal’s suffering," the letter states, and then goes on to describe the horror of death by conscious asphyxiation.

Legislative history in other states confirmed that many state legislatures were well aware of the dangers of paralyzing drugs as many as 30 years ago. "It’s no secret in the veterinary community that using a paralyzing agent when euthanizing an animal is dangerous and inhumane," says Alper. "Many of these state statutes passed unanimously, decades ago, with very little dissent."

Some of the states that have the most explicit ban on paralyzing drugs are among the most active when it comes to the death penalty. Florida’s law, for instance, has mandated since 1984 that paralyzing drugs "may not be used on a dog or cat for any purpose." Yet Florida’s newly-minted lethal injection protocol calls explicitly for the inmate to be paralyzed before the lethal potassium chloride is administered.

As for why states continue to use a lethal injection procedure that does not conform to veterinary standards, Alper said he can only speculate. "It cannot be that they do not understand the dangers of the paralyzing drug, and it cannot be that they do not know there is a simple and readily-available alternative," he said.

The study is available at

and at


For more information on lethal injection, please visit For more information about the Death Penalty Clinic, please visit


1 comment:

dudleysharp said...

Veterinary Claims a Distortion of Reality: Human Lethal Injection
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info, below

Within the death penalty debate, there is an allegation that veterinarians are prohibited from using pancuronium bromide or Pavulon, the paralyzing agent used in human lethal injection, because it may cause and/or mask pain to the animals, within the euthanasia process.

It is also stated that vets are prohibited from using potassium chloride, the heart stooping drug, used thirdly, in the three drug human lethal injection protocol.
In turn, this is used as a new anti death penalty sound bite -  "It is too cruel for animals, but we use it on people."

First, the The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommendations of 2000 (1) , inadvertently, support the human lethal injection protocol -- the opposite of what the detractors have been claiming.

AVMA: "When used alone, these drugs (paralytics) all cause respiratory arrest before loss of consciousness, so the animal may perceive pain and distress after it is immobilized." (2)  

Obviously,  no state, which practices human lethal injection, uses a paralytic without an anaesthetic --  EVER. The anesthesia is always used first. It appears that these absurd claims, falsely attributed to veterinary literature,  have been a bald faced lie by anti death penalty activists. 
To claim that paralytics are condemned in veterinary euthanasia, without mentioning the specific context, is an intentional deception. (The AVMA does not mention the specific paralytic used in lethal injection for humans).
Secondly, if properly anesthetized, as in human lethal injection, there would be no pain experienced when using Pavulon.  That is also well known.

Thirdly, the AVMA, similarly, prohibits the use of potassium chloride, "WHEN USED ALONE". (3) (my capitalization for emphasis). Of course, human lethal injection uses the two previously mentioned drugs, prior to injection of the potassium chloride. This is well known, as well, thereby revealing more deceptions by the anti death penalty cabal.
Fourth,, the AVMA, specifically, cautions (4):
"1. The guidelines in this report are in no way intended to be used for human lethal injection.
2. The application of a barbiturate, paralyzing agent, and potassium chloride delivered in separate
syringes or stages (the common method used for human lethal injection) is not cited in the report.
3. The report never mentions pancuronium bromide or Pavulon, the paralyzing agent used in human
lethal injection."

Obviously, the AVMA is saying DON'T use our report to draw any inferences with regard to the human lethal injection protocol.  Of course, death penalty opponents decided to ignore that responsible request.
The AVMA continues:

"Before referring to the 2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia, please contact the AVMA to ensure the association's position is stated correctly. Please contact Michael San Filippo, media relations assistant at the AVMA, at 847-285-6687 (office), 847-732-6194 (cell) or msanfilippo(at)  for more information or to set up an interview with a veterinary expert." (4)

Death penalty opponents ignored that request, as well.
Based upon this literature, it is clear that this veterinary nonsense was another anti death penalty fraud, which, sadly and often, escaped media fact checking, but not media repetition.
The AVMA approves of  "potassium chloride in conjunction with prior general anesthesia" (5) for animals --  this is the drug protocol used within most lethal injection protocols, with the exception of the paralytic used in between. 
This actually shows support for the human lethal injection protocol, however unintended.

First, this two drug protocol is approved by AVMA, for animals. 

Secondly,  a disadvantage listed by AVMA for potassium chloride is "clonic spams" (6)  --  rapid and violent jerking of muscles soon after injection of the potassium. The paralytic drug, used second, within the human lethal injection protocol, helps to reduce, or eliminate, this effect.
In other words, a review of the AVMA literature finds much support, however inadvertent, for the human lethal injection protocol and nothing that conflicts with or condemns it.
Hopefully, this newest, blatant distortion by the anti death penalty crowd will soon fade.
Veterinary use of sodium pentobarbital
"Pentobarbital is a barbiturate that is available as both a free acid and a sodium salt, the former of which is only slightly soluble in water and ethanol." (7)  (NOTE -- I don't believe this is used for human lethal injection).
"Veterinary medicine
In veterinary medicine sodium pentobarbital—traded under names such as Sagatal—is used as an anaesthetic.UBC Committee on Animal Care (2005). Euthanasia. SOP 009E1 - euthanasia - overdose with pentobarbital. The University of British Columbia. URL accessed on 4 October, 2005. Pentobarbital is an ingredient in Equithesin." (7)
"Veterinary Euthanasia
It is used by itself, or more often in combination with complementary agents such as phenytoin, in commercial animal euthanasia (2003). ANESTHESIA AND ANALGESIA. Animal Use Protocols. University of Virginia. URL accessed on 4 October, 2005. injectable solutions. Trade names include Euthasol, Euthatal, Beuthanasia-D and Fatal Plus. "(7)
1)  www(dot)
   Appendix 1, page 693
2)    www(dot)
          Appendix 4, page 696

3)  www(dot)
         Page 681
4)   www(dot)
         Cover Page
5)   www(dot)
         Page 680
6)    www(dot)
         Page 681

copyright 2005-2007 Dudley Sharp
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
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