Thursday, June 17, 2021

The failure of deaths by lethal injection

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Whether you oppose or support the death penalty, these deaths by lethal injection are observed and researched while deaths by euthanasia are not observed or researched.

In Canada (MAiD) euthanasia deaths are observed through a self-reporting system, whereby the person who approves the death is often the same person who carries out the death who is the same person who reports the death. This self-reporting system enables abuse of the law and problems with euthanasia deaths to remain unknown.

Death penalty lethal injection deaths are often observed by the media and usually include an autopsy thus enabling researchers to determine whether or not the person who died suffered in the process.

An article by Austin Sarat that was published on March 23, 2021 in The Verdict  examines the failure of capital punishment deaths by lethal injection.

This issue concerns me because the lethal injection drugs used in capital punishment are the same or similar to the lethal injection drugs used in euthanasia.

From its earliest adoption by the state of Oklahoma in 1999 through 2009, lethal injection meant one thing, death by a standard three-drug cocktail: sodium thiopental, an “ultrashort-acting barbiturate” to anesthetize the inmate; pancuronium bromide, a “chemical paralytic” to asphyxiate the inmate; and potassium chloride, to stop the heart. By 2009, every death penalty state used this same drug combination.
A decade later, none was employing it. Instead, they were executing people with a wide variety of novel drug combinations.
Sarat explains:
My research collaborators and I have examined every American execution during the last decade. We found that as the paradigm decomposed, the number of problems encountered during executions by lethal injection multiplied.

Of all the techniques used to put people to death in the United States during the 20th and into the 21st century, by 2010 lethal injection already had shown itself to be the most problematic. Since then things have only gotten worse.
Sarat uncovers the problems with death by lethal injection:

First, during the last decade, in more than eight percent of lethal injections, executioners struggled to find suitable veins to set IVs.

We also found that the lethal injection process itself does not always produce painless death. In almost five percent of the last decade’s lethal injections, inmates gave some verbal indication that they were experiencing pain during their execution.

One such inmate was Anthony Shore, who was executed in Texas on January 18, 2018. Soon after his execution by pentobarbital began, Shore cried, “Ohh weeee, I can feel that it does burn. Burning!” He then shook on the gurney and struggled to breathe, before dying 13 minutes later.

In another sign of lethal injection’s inhumanity, a September 2020 NPR investigation found signs of pulmonary edema—fluid filling the lungs—in 84 percent of the 216 post-lethal injection autopsies it reviewed. Inmates’ lungs had filled with fluid while they continued to breathe, which would cause them to feel as if they were drowning and suffocating.

Sarat's research suggests that from 2010-2020, 3.7 percent of barbiturate combination executions were botched in comparison with more than 22 percent of sedative combination executions.
Sarat concludes by stating:
Over the last decade, new drugs and drug cocktails may have allowed the machinery of death to keep running. New procedures may have given the increasingly jerry-rigged lethal injection process a veneer of legitimacy. But none of those changes has resolved its fate or repaired its vexing problems.

By now we should have learned that little can be done to change lethal injection’s status as America’s least reliable and most problematic death penalty method.

This column was the product of a research collaboration with five Amherst College students, Mattea Denny, Nicolas Graber-Mitchell, Greene Ko, Rose Mroczka, and Lauren Pelosi.

1 comment:

C. David Coyle said...

This is a very informative article. It is very well researched and expertly written. It makes no sense to have people who are tasked with saving and healing life be the administrators of death in either case, execution, or assisted suicide (a serious oxymoron).