Who gives lethal injections to prisoners

USA: States negligent in using lethal injection

Method of execution can lead to excruciating death

(New York, April 24, 2006) - The incompetence, negligence and irresponsibility of US states put prisoners at unnecessary risk of excruciating pain while being executed, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Of the 38 American states that allow the death penalty, 37 and the federal government use lethal injection as a method of execution. In 2005 all executions were carried out by lethal injection.

The 65-page report "So Long as They Die: Lethal Injections in the United States" reveals the unprofessional history of lethal injection as a method of execution based on a protocol dating back three decades was created without a scientific background and which is still valid today without any change. In the procedure developed at the time, the prisoner is strapped to a couch and the enforcement personnel hidden behind a wall inject a series of drugs into his vein. First a massive dose of the anesthetic sodium thiopental is administered, then the drug pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the arbitrarily controllable muscles, but the prisoner is fully conscious and can feel pain. A third drug, potassium chloride, then quickly leads to cardiac arrest. But the drug is so painful that veterinary guidelines prohibit its use to euthanize animals unless the vet can be absolutely certain that the animal is 100 percent unconscious. However, such protections do not exist for the death row inmates.
"The US is more gentle in euthanizing dogs than it is in executing people," said Jamie Fellner, US director of programs for Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. "Just because a prisoner killed ruthlessly or in cold blood doesn't mean the state should do the same."
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and calls for its abolition. But until the 38 states that practice the death penalty and the American federal government abolish executions, international human rights law requires them to ensure that they have developed a method of execution that reduces the risk of mental or physical pain or harm to the death row inmate as much as possible.
Human Rights Watch is calling on affected states to suspend lethal injection executions until they have thoroughly investigated and evaluated existing and alternative methods.
The drug sequence administered in the United States was developed in 1977 by an Oklahoma doctor who had no experience in pharmacology or anesthesia. Texas immediately adopted Oklahoma’s policy, and at least 34 other states followed suit (Nevada’s execution record remains secret). Research by Human Right Watch showed that not a single American state has sought the advice of medical experts to determine whether changing the sequence of the three drugs administered could reduce the risk of pain for the prisoners or whether the use of other drugs or administration methods would reduce the risk Risk.
"Blind imitation is not the right way to kill people," said Fellner. "If a state wants to execute someone, it must first do its homework, consult experts and choose a method that will prevent pain and suffering as much as possible."
Without adequate or properly administered anesthetics, prisoners are conscious as they are suffocated by the effects of the muscle-paralyzing drug and feel the searing pain caused by the potassium chloride in their veins. Logs of recent executions in California and toxicological reports of executions in North Carolina suggest that prisoners were in fact inadequately anesthetized before being executed by injection.
Prisons have rejected the possibility of executing death row inmates with a single high-dose injection of a barbiturate, although this method would guarantee a painless death. But the executors of the execution and the witnesses would have to wait about 30 minutes longer for the prisoner's heart to stop. Prison officials have also resisted stopping the use of the muscle-paralyzing agent pancuronium bromide, although its use makes it difficult to determine whether a prisoner is adequately anesthetized. This drug is not needed to kill the prisoner, nor does it protect him from pain. Its primary purpose seems to be to stop the body from twitching or cramping during agony. In addition, it hides any pain the prisoner may feel as he cannot move, scream or even blink.
"Prison officials are more concerned with the sensitivities of the enforcement staff than with the freedom of the convicted person from pain," said Fellner. "Appearances are more important to them than reality."
Although prisoners have made official complaints about lethal injections for years, denouncing them as unconstitutional and cruel, until recently the courts were quick to deal with their arguments. Shaken by new and hard-hitting evidence of potentially botched executions, however, federal courts in California and North Carolina this year refused to approve the standard administration of lethal injection for scheduled executions. A hearing will be held in the United States Supreme Court on April 26 on the question of what method a prisoner can use to challenge lethal injection.
Just a few years ago, the United States was the only country in the world where lethal injection was used as a method of execution. However, several other countries where the death penalty had not yet been abolished followed: China first used lethal injection in 1997; in Guatemala, the first prisoner was executed by lethal injection in 1998; The Philippines and Thailand have had laws allowing lethal injection to be executed since 2001 (although no one has been executed using this method to date).