Friday, 29 December 2006

Lethal injection needs study

Lethal injection needs study

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that executions need not be painless. Instead, the high court interpreted the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution forbidding “cruel and unusual punishments” to mean that executions could not wantonly and unnecessarily inflict pain.

Enter Angel Nieves Diaz, 55, who was put to death in Florida on Dec. 14 by lethal injection, widely accepted as the preferred and most humane method to end a person’s life.

His death, which took more than half an hour after receiving an initial lethal injection, showed chemical execution may in fact be inhumane. Diaz’s executioners had to inject him with lethal chemicals a second time, after witnesses said he moved and opened his eyes some 20 minutes after first receiving the deadly drugs.

Diaz’s death exemplified a British medical journal study reporting that failure to properly administer anesthetic would lead “to the unnecessary suffering of at least some of those executed.”

In California, a federal judge found that “it would be ‘unconscionable’ to inject a conscious person with the contemplated amount of potassium chloride.” He further ruled that the state has no safeguards to ensure these drugs are administered properly.

Diaz’s executioners may have pushed the anesthetic into his muscle tissue rather than his vein, or Diaz’s liver damage may have led to the botched execution. But the fact is it took twice the normal time for him to die and that he likely suffered.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was absolutely right to suspend executions in that state pending a review of this specific case. His action put Florida in the ranks with California and a handful of other states with moratoriums on capital punishment. Other states that still rely on chemicals to put inmates to death should take note and review their own procedures for potential flaws.

Until lethal injections can be performed properly, with the correct dosages by trained professionals, no one should be put to death via that method.

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