Peer-Reviewed Studies Identifying Problems in the Design and Implementation of Lethal Injection for Execution

By Zimmers, Teresa A.; Koniaris, Leonidas G. | Fordham Urban Law Journal, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Peer-Reviewed Studies Identifying Problems in the Design and Implementation of Lethal Injection for Execution


Zimmers, Teresa A., Koniaris, Leonidas G., Fordham Urban Law Journal


ABSTRACT

Lethal injection was designed and carried out without any research at all. There is no evidence that any literature searches, animal modeling, clinical studies, or investigations of veterinary practice were performed prior to the first lethal injection execution. The paucity of objective information on drug action and mechanism of death in lethal injection belies the assurance of expert testimony in lethal injection litigation. Here we review two peer-reviewed studies on lethal injection for execution in which we present evidence that lethal injection does not affect death through the mechanisms intended, that thiopental may be insufficient to assure anesthesia, and that death might be affected through pancuronium-induced asphyxiation. We conclude that failures in protocol design and implementation indicate that the conventional view of lethal injection as an invariably painless death is flawed.

I. EXECUTION BY LETHAL INJECTION

Lethal injection for execution has largely replaced other modalities for the implementation of the death penalty in the United States. Public repugnance and legal challenges to execution by cyanide gas and electrocution led to the development of lethal injection as an ostensibly more humane method of judicial killing. (1) Lethal injection as the mode of execution has been imposed in 929 of the 1099 executions in the United States from the re-establishment of the death penalty in 1976 to March 8, 2008. (2) Lethal injection involves the administration of three chemicals into the condemned inmate: thiopental sodium, a barbiturate anesthetic; pancuronium bromide, an agent that causes muscle paralysis including respiratory arrest; and potassium chloride, a depolarizing agent intended to stop cardiac activity. Modifications of the United States' lethal injection protocols have also been adopted world-wide. (3)

The design of a pharmacologically-based method to impose execution in the United States has generally been attributed to a desire to find a less expensive and more humane method than electrocution. (4) Some have also contended that the protocol provides the appearance of a quiet, peaceful death, not dissimilar from falling asleep. If lethal injection indeed reliably assured a painless death, the method might comport with some judicial opinions measuring execution methods against "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," and prohibiting punishments that involve "the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain," "torture or a lingering death," or which do not accord with "the dignity of man." (5) Other justices and legal scholars have questioned and even objected to the lethal injection protocol's resemblance to a medical procedure with anesthesia, arguing that such an effort to minimize pain and to cloak execution in the garb of medicine reduces the retribution aspect of execution and confuses the public. (6)

Although lethal injection gives the appearance of a medical procedure, no research whatsoever--clinical, veterinary, medical literature search, or other--was ever performed prior to the crafting of the initial Oklahoma legislation or the first lethal injection in Texas. (7) The designer of the protocol, Jay Chapman, then an Oklahoma medical examiner, was guided by his experiences as a patient. (8) He intended each of the drugs to be lethal individually and that the combination would provide redundancy. Dr. Stanley Deutsch, then chairman of anesthesiology at an Oklahoma University Medical School arrived at a similar design. (9) Each proposed the combination of an ultra-short acting barbiturate and a paralytic; potassium chloride was not written into the statute but was added later.

The use of pancuronium bromide in the lethal injection protocol most often results in rapid paralysis of the inmate, rendering him motionless in death. The appearance of restful sleep, however, would mask extreme pain and suffering if the inmate were aware. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Peer-Reviewed Studies Identifying Problems in the Design and Implementation of Lethal Injection for Execution
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.