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Botched Executions Put Lethal Injections Under New Scrutiny 483

carmendrahl writes: "Lethal injections are typically regarded as far more humane methods for execution compared to predecessors such as hanging and firing squads. But the truth about the procedure's humane-ness is unclear. Major medical associations have declared involvement of their member physicians in executions to be unethical, so that means that relatively inexperienced people administer the injections. Mounting supply challenges for the lethal drug cocktails involved are forcing execution teams to change procedures on the fly. This and other problems have contributed to recent crises in Oklahoma and Missouri. As a new story and interactive graphic explains, states are turning to a number of compound cocktails to get around the supply problems."
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Botched Executions Put Lethal Injections Under New Scrutiny

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  • by jpvlsmv ( 583001 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @01:48PM (#47076313) Homepage Journal

    I still don't understand why the lethal injection isn't just a bunch of heroin that's been confiscated in the latest raid. People OD on heroin without being horribly uncomfortable.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by freeze128 ( 544774 )
      While there are so many things that can kill a human, I find it hard to believe that they are having a hard time killing humans!

      Veterinarians have to euthanize animals comfortably all the time. Why not use the same drug?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:11PM (#47076637)

        There was a discussion on this topic on another site I was visiting, about a week ago.

        The consensus was that the problem with using nitrogen asphyxiation was that it didn't cause enough suffering.

      • despite all the jokes you've heard we're pretty damn resilient and it takes a surprising amount of effort to kill us. The trouble is once you start killing someone our bodies will rebel (trying to get us to get away from whatever it is that's killing us). That's pain in a nutshell.

        There aren't a lot of ways to kill a man without significant pain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or ignorant.

        Now, a better question is why are we still killing people when at least 4% of ppl killed are veri
      • The irony is that the US is a nation that can easily kill an armed "suspected terrorist" from half way round the world, with just a touch of a button from a drone, yet still has trouble killing a man strapped to a chair.

    • ...or your basic "Exit Bag" system, with a colorant or odorant to safeguard against the administering staff being harmed. []

    • I still don't understand why the lethal injection isn't just a bunch of heroin that's been confiscated in the latest raid. People OD on heroin without being horribly uncomfortable.

      Not fast enough. Throw in a little carbon monoxide.

    • I still don't understand why the lethal injection isn't just a bunch of heroin that's been confiscated in the latest raid. People OD on heroin without being horribly uncomfortable.

      Because the association with drugs might serve to bring the legitimacy of the institution of death penalty into question. Like all institutions, it too is primarily concerned with its own continuation, and does whatever it takes to ensure a steady stream of victims. Not out of any malice, mind you, but simply because it can't exi

      • by preaction ( 1526109 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:36PM (#47077033)

        We don't have a justice system, we have a revenge system. It continues because we will always want revenge on those that damage us, society. We already know we're murdering people, these people "deserve" to be murdered.

        • by jythie ( 914043 )
          And, if you are the type who gets happy feelings from other people's suffering but do not want the moral pangs of being a 'bad person', having a population of people that it is ok to kill is desirable. And since we can not do it with blacks, gays, hispanics, prostitutes, or any of the other historical 'it is not really murder, they are bad people' groups, I guess this is one of the new outlets.

          Someone should just get these people a whole pile of video games.
  • Frosty (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @01:48PM (#47076315) Homepage Journal

    If people don't want to die a a horrid painful death they should choose their parents better - that way they'd be able to afford a better lawyer.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Or maybe they should simply not rape and murder that 9 year old girl.
      • Re:Frosty (Score:5, Informative)

        by danlip ( 737336 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:01PM (#47076499)

        You assume all the people put to death are actually guilty of the crime. This is certainly not true. Also, as the GP implied, plenty of people who are guilty of the crime don't get put to death. When was the last time you heard of a wealthy well-connected person sentenced to death?

      • Re:Frosty (Score:4, Insightful)

        by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:02PM (#47076511)

        Maybe they didn't. A not-insignificant number of death row inmates aren't even guilty.

        And the point about wealth and having a better lawyer is quite valid too.

        Personally, I'm not against the idea of the death penalty, but I can't support it in practice knowing that we kill the innocent sometimes along with the guilty.

        • A not-insignificant number of death row inmates aren't even guilty.

          Define "not-insignificant number"? Of course one is too many. However, to suggest that the number is "large" is misleading. Probably not even a few percent, maybe less than 1 percent. Still too many, but suggesting huge numbers does your argument no favors.

          • Re:Frosty (Score:5, Informative)

            by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:24PM (#47076851)
            According to this study [] the rate is about 4.1%. The rate of people currently being found innocent after being sentenced to death is 1.6%.
          • by vux984 ( 928602 )

            Probably not even a few percent

            A few percent is a HUGE number in this context.

            For example, that means if you select an executed prisoner at random, the odds he was innocent is several times HIGHER than the odds he shares your birthday. (0.027%) Its HIGHER than the odds he shares your 'birth-week'. (1.9%)

            A recent peer reviewed study puts the innocence rate at LEAST 4% as a conservative. If we executed one inmate a week (which is fairly close to actuality), we'd kill at least 2 innocents every year on average

      • by marsu_k ( 701360 )
        Or perhaps they should not run over four people while drunk []. But oh wait, no harm done, guilty as rich!
    • Re:Frosty (Score:4, Insightful)

      by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:00PM (#47076467)

      If people don't want to die a a horrid painful death they should choose their parents better

      If people don't want to die a horrid painful death, they should avoid being born in the first place. What do you think most of us have to look forward to in the last couple years of our lives?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      IAAL (several hundred FL criminal defense cases including felony jury trials, etc)

      It has almost nothing to do with the quality of lawyering involved. A significant portion of criminal defense cases have essentially pre-ordained outcomes due to the weight of evidence against the accused.

      Lawyers are really only useful in the few close cases- ie, ones where evidence supporting reasonable doubt can be found. A lot of the big cases in the media (OJ Simpson, Casey Anthony, Zimmerman) were actually extremely weak

  • Why not use the gas we euthanize dogs and cats with?

    PS: I'm probably against the death penalty but it just seems an easy method to remove this objection to it, and use something that is not going to be hard to supply. And I'm sure some death-penalty supporters are also much more concerned with cat and dogs suffering so this is probably pretty humane.

    • Re:Stupid question (Score:5, Informative)

      by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:05PM (#47076567)

      Because if you use those drugs for executions, the (European) manufacturers of them then get prohibited from selling them to the USA and you no longer have them for medical uses.

    • by danlip ( 737336 )

      Dogs and cats are usually put down with intravenous injections (so says wikipedia).

    • As someone who recently had to put my cat to sleep because of cancer, the vet told me they were using an overdose of barbiturates, not gas.

      I felt my best bud of 12 years go limp in my hands within a second or two of the injection and he was gone a second or two later.

      Maybe my vet was different, but I've known other vets who do the same.

  • Cheap, effective, quick ("humane"), and we don't need to rely on other nations to produce the materials.
    • Cheap, effective, quick ("humane"), and we don't need to rely on other nations to produce the materials.

      Too messy. Someone has to clean that up...

  • Guillotine. The most humane method humanity ever invented.
  • by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @01:56PM (#47076395)

    Guillotine, Hanging, Firing Squad and the Electric Chair.

    You could also take standard drugs like Sodium Thiopental that are used in countries that allow euthanasia []

    Sodium thiopental is used intravenously for the purposes of euthanasia. In both Belgium and the Netherlands, where active euthanasia is allowed by law, the standard protocol recommends sodium thiopental as the ideal agent to induce coma, followed by pancuronium bromide.

    Intravenous administration is the most reliable and rapid way to accomplish euthanasia. A coma is first induced by intravenous administration of 20 mg/kg thiopental sodium (Nesdonal) in a small volume (10 ml physiological saline). Then, a triple dose of a non-depolarizing skeletal muscle relaxant is given, such as 20 mg pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) or 20 mg vecuronium bromide (Norcuron). The muscle relaxant should be given intravenously to ensure optimal availability but pancuronium bromide may be administered intramuscular at an increased dosage level of 40 mg.

    It's also cheap too. []

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Export of Sodium Thiopental and similar drugs to countries that allow executions are banned throughout the EU. That's why the USA is now looking for shitty homegrown replacements.

      • The FDA won't allow it on the market because the drug will be shown to have harmful side effects at its recommended dosage. Namely, death.
    • Guillotine, Hanging, Firing Squad and the Electric Chair.

      While it may be possible to build a reliable and humane electric chair, the history of actual electric chair executions is not that a humane pain-free execution process.

      • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

        It boggles my mind how anyone can think the electric chair is, or even could be, in any way humane.

        Apart from anything else the victim takes time to die, partly from it boiling their blood and brain enough that their eyes can literally pop out of their sockets.

        The only reason the electric chair made it at all is because it was Thomas Edison who was pushing it heavily for his own political and business gain, and another way to promote DC over AC. None of his actual reasons have anything to do with efficient

    • by danlip ( 737336 )

      Except we can't get sodium thiopental in the US. We don't make it, and the EU won't sell it to us because we use it for executions.

      • Two words.. Canadian Pharmacy.. Naw, the whole EU ban on it and the only US company, Hospira, stopped in 2011 means that the easy way isn't so easy. I smell a commercial opportunity here. Would it be unethical to try and use kickstarter for seed funding? ;-)

        We would like to ramp up production of Sodium Thiopental to develop the onshore capability for killing our prisoners on death row. This means we'll be manufacturing it here in the good old USA and hiring American workers (except for the Janitorial staff). For this we're targeting
        an initial funding of $20 million to set up the lab and limited production facilities.

        I could sell it to the states and make a fortune!

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @01:56PM (#47076397)

    ... Snu-snu.

  • by MrKevvy ( 85565 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @01:57PM (#47076415)

    - It's completely painless and humane; one's physiology doesn't notice the lack of oxygen so the person just goes to sleep and then dies. People who were revived from asphyxia like this reported they had no idea until they woke up

    - It's practically free of charge as nitrogen is 80% of our atmosphere; there will never be a shortage of it

    - Because it's universally available and free worldwide it can't be banned or restricted

    - It's much safer (ie nitrogen leaks are harmless assuming the area is ventilated.)

    • I wonder if the reason simple ideas are not used is because the states don't have the expertise to say what to use so they have to hire some third party to come up with a way to do it. The company coming up with the idea feels they need to come up with a complex mixture to use to justify the money they were paid to come up with the idea or maybe they have contacts with a chemical company that they would recommend :). I am sure it has something to do with money somewhere... someone wanting to make some.
  • by WhiteZook ( 3647835 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @01:57PM (#47076417)
    Give them a small mouth/nose mask attached to a nitrogen supply. Quick, painless, and you don't have blood everywhere.
  • I have heard from articles that the person just goes to sleep. Why do they rely on some hard to obtain or complicated mixture when it seems like there are very cheap and not very uncomfortable ways to do such a thing?
    • I don't think that suicide by car exhaust is effective these days. Modern cars don't emit the amount of carbon monoxide that older cars did.

      However, I have wondered why execution by carbon monoxide poisoning isn't used. Perhaps there are too many people who would be offended by the concept of a gas chamber?

      • However, I have wondered why execution by carbon monoxide poisoning isn't used. Perhaps there are too many people who would be offended by the concept of a gas chamber?

        I think you've hit on something here. People don't want a "mess", so fireing squads and the electric chair and hanging (the head might pop off) are out, execute if you must, but let's not "offend" our senses...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm surprised the state of Oklahoma hasn't tried to make carrying out death sentences a profit center. There's no shortage of people in that state who wouldn't actually pay to be on a firing squad. And plenty of them would pay even more to get to do it up close and personal with a handgun.

    They could even open it up to the residents of Texas and add in an out of state surcharge for the privilege.

  • Only by idiots. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:04PM (#47076543) Journal
    In this case 'more humane' basically just means 'doesn't make the audience as squeamish'. As it turns out, this is a very poor indicator. Especially since the usual injection cocktail contains Pancuronium, or another curare-like muscle relaxant. Not an anaesthetic, or toxic in itself; but causes nice, peaceful-looking flaccid paralysis. Unless one of the other ingredients fully sedates you, or kills you, you just suffocate; but no unseemly twitching or spasms, no grimacing, gasping, any of that ugly stuff; because with the complete loss of muscle control, how could you?

    The 'barbaric' methods, by contrast, don't look all nice and clean and medical; but they also don't involve deputy Cletus playing amateur phlebotomist with a dodgy, failure-prone, three-step injection process (compare to, say, how we put domestic animals to sleep, if you want to see somebody who knows their stuff handle a lethal injection...), they involve a lot of gore; potentially some peripheral nervous activity causing creepy corpse twitch; but they depend either on simple mechanical principles(as with the guillotine) or skills that prison staff likely have in more than adequate amounts (as with firing squads).

    Personally, I'm not against the notion of capital punishment in principle; but the way we do it in the US is like a grimly parodic example of what not to do, and how not to do it. Despite the availability of trivially better procedures, we insist on using a variety of ass-backwards Mad-Libs protocols with a history of unreliability and no obvious merits. Our irrational, emotionally misguided, approach carries over to the selection of victims as well: (even aside from the documented cases where the whole trial was a frame-up, with gross prosecutorial, judicial, and sometimes even defense attorney, misconduct) we execute largely on the basis of emotional salience, rather than actual danger. Kill somebody, up close and personal, nice and gruesome? Potential death penalty in jurisdictions that conduct it. Kill a large number of people, by some polite, white-collar, epidemiological chicanery? Probably just a civil matter, you might even get to settle without admitting wrongdoing.

    Nobody likes violent criminals, and they are notably unsympathetic characters; but (precisely for those reasons) their influence tends to be self-limiting. The really dangerous ones are smart enough to make it to a position of power and influence, where the rewards are better and the penalties oh so much smaller. If we were serious about rationally applying capital punishment, it'd be a lot easier to be taken out and shot for various flavors of fraud and corruption, rather than effectively impossible, as now.
  • I have never understood why killing someone cleanly is so complicated to get right in the modern era. The French solved this problem back in 1792, and it worked fairly well up until they finally decided that having the government kill people was inherently problematic. The USA being a country that loves its guns so much, it's almost incomprehensible that there hasn't been a freaking research paper on the optimal angle for a shotgun under the chin. We have all manner of chemical designed to render someone

  • It seems like it should be easy with either one drug or two at most.

    There seems to be dozens of drugs used for anesthesia that should work for a single drug. When I've had surgery it seems like "count backwards from 10" gets me to about 8.5 before I'm out. And at that point they could just inject enough after that to kill you.

    Even if they had to use two drugs, again there's plenty that would make you unconscious and they could inject nasty stuff to finish you off.

    • Yes, but if you use those for executions, the European companies that make them won't be allowed to sell them to the USA, period, so you won't have them for surgeries either.

  • Disclaimer: Im against the death penalty.

    But I don't understand why its so hard to kill someone. Making someone unconscious for major surgery seems to be a solved problem. Once someone is unconscious, and paralysed, how hard is it to kill them?

    If you are unconscious, no oxygen will kill you in a few minutes without pain. Even if you are concious, from what I understand its CO2 in the lungs that causes pain.. just filling a room with helium should probably kill you without you feeling much pain in a few minu

    • Making someone unconscious for major surgery seems to be a solved problem.

      Using the drugs (sodium thiopental, propofol, etc.) used for that purpose for killing people without getting said drugs embargoed is an unsolved problem.

      • I guess its just a marketing problem, they need drugs that make the person not move so no one feels bad. And at the end the person looks like they died naturally.

        500g of c4 on someone's head would do the job and be completely painless, and cost almost nothing.

        I'm guessing that its hard to get drugs that don't cause convulsions or toxic side effects Or at least they only are made by companies who dont want to be known for killing people. Because getting drugs to kill someone doesn't seem so hard.

    • This has become a problem because doctors are generally refusing to involve themselves in the process. From what I have heard from professionals, it can be difficult to properly insert a needle into a person. It becomes easier with practice, but the people administering this are only doing this a few times per year so there is little experience with the technique. Plus some drug companies are refusing to provide the tried and true cocktails, so states are having to find different drugs, again with little

  • Greater complexity = much greater chance to screw up.
    I don't get why execution has been made this complex.
    We need to do away with the whole special death row areas, telling victims months ahead when they are goona get executed, the green mile walk, and multiple different hard-to-get injections conducted in stages by multiple different people.
    Whats wrong with an unexpected trip to a disguised room and a quick bullet (or 6 to be sure) to the head? Ideally when the victim isn't even slightly expecting

  • by OSULugan ( 3529543 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:14PM (#47076695)

    If we're going to do executions, then the whole "pain-free" premise should go right out the door. We're killing the criminal in retaliation for a crime. Why does it need to be so painless? I mean, don't torture the criminal by starvation or dehydration or anything like that. But hanging, guillotine, firing squad, etc. are all effective means. You could even give some local to ease the pain on some of these methods.

    Otherwise, all you're really doing is admitting that execution isn't right, but trying to get away with it anyway.

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:41PM (#47077107) Homepage Journal

      Well, you've hit on the point of lethal injection. The real appeal of the elaborate pseudo-medical procedure is that it masks the nature of what is being done to the condemned, makes it seem nicer than it really is.

      If being humane toward the condemned were the highest priority, firing squad or guillotine would be the best choices among the traditional execution methods. In fact, and ironically, the traditional method of *extrajudicial* execution would be most reliably humane: a shot in the back of the head.

      The reason we don't use these methods is that they're embarrassingly messy, and leave an ugly residue. We'd prefer to have a nicely intact body as if the condemned died peacefully, but in fact the catastrophic destruction of the condemned bodies is what makes the uglier methods more humane. Instant oblivion is is clearly preferable to an elaborately drawn out psuedo-medical procedure, especially an untried one carried out by inexperienced hands.

      The reason we carry out lethal injections isn't humane, it's political.

  • Sickening (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:18PM (#47076749)
    If it is illegal to kill, it should be for the state as well. Anything else is hypocritical. Period. It is not about justice, nor does having capital punishment provide a deterrent that significantly affects violent crime rates.
    I heard on the radio just this morning that due to the supply difficulties, Tennessee is passing/has passed a law to bring back the electric chair. Now that's humane!
    Capital punishment is largely about one thing. One thing that politicians tend to do very well to keep their constituents in line. Fear-mongering. See.. I am tough on those rapin, theiving, murderin (insert carefully chosen group that panders to your audience here).
  • I'll set aside, for a moment, that capital punishment is barbaric and should not exist in a society that wishes to call itself free and humane.

    But what is so difficult about performing an execution properly without subjecting the executee to unconscionable suffering? If an anesthesiologist can induce a patient into a temporary coma with perfect precision, so that the patient will feel no pain and be without consciousness during a surgical procedure, why the hell can't a prisoner be put into exactly the sam

  • I think when you are killing over 4% [] of people who are innocent then you need to be talking about whether you should be using the death penalty in the first place.
  • Execution is not humane, no matter how you do it. If you cannot accept that, then you should oppose execution. Conversely, if you support execution, you should accept that it is cruel no matter how it is done.

  • by YoungManKlaus ( 2773165 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @03:11PM (#47077449)

    Because you know, maybe one day the US might actually want to become a first-world-country...

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker