Friday, 22 December 2006

Why can't state stop botching executions?

Get it right

Why can't state stop botching executions?

It took 34 minutes for Angel Nieves Diaz to die - more than twice the normal time it takes to carry out state executions in Florida.

Did Diaz suffer during that prolonged period? If so, did it amount to cruel and unusual suffering?

There is no way to know for certain. Death penalty opponents insist it does, and will use last week's botched execution of Diaz to try to block future capital punishment decisions from being carried out.

A hiatus on executions while the Diaz case is being investigated is in order, and Gov. Jeb Bush has wisely ordered one, suspending future executions until all tests are in and autopsy results completed. But this should not lead to an open-ended moratorium on capital punishment in Florida, as a California judge ordered in that state last week. What it should lead to is more professional methods of carrying out justice.

If Florida believes in capital punishment - as it should - why can't prison officials get it right? The state adopted lethal injections because it kept botching executions by the old method, the electric chair. Condemned inmates were being burned and tortured in the final days of that gruesome method of execution at the end of the '90s. Sticking a needle in a vein seems like a simple procedure by comparison.

But somehow the executioner missed Diaz' veins, or rather pierced right through them, in both arms when administering the lethal drugs. Diaz suffered long chemical burns on each arm from the drugs entering his flesh instead of his veins. A second dose was called for at some point, and eventually Diaz was pronounced dead.

Hopefully, a special Commission Administration on Lethal Injection will be able to provide some answers on what went wrong in the Diaz case and what needs to be done to prevent recurrences. Bush named the 11-member commission last week to thoroughly examine the procedures used in the execution chambers, asking for a final report by March 1. The commission will include members from the medical, law enforcement, scientific and legal professions, including at least one defense lawyer who has handled capital cases.

The issue of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment is a legitimate one, if the drugs are not of the correct strength or are improperly administered, as in the Diaz case. There seems to be a question of whether insufficient anesthesia was used to render the condemned unconscious and thus unaware of pain. That is a point at issue in the California moratorium, as well as one declared last month in Missouri.

It's difficult to understand why proper dosage continues to stymie prison officials. Anyone who has gone through the emotionally tough experience of having a beloved pet euthanized knows how easy that procedure seems. It is over in a matter of seconds, and there is no sign of suffering.

If vets can figure out how to induce a painless death in animals, surely the brightest minds in science and law enforcement should be able to get the proper dose to end a human life without endless wrangling about excessive suffering that serves only to thwart the administration of justice.

Talk back

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