US lethal injection ‘is not humane’

Murderers executed by lethal injection in the United States may have suffered excruciating pain because they were not properly anaesthetised, researchers said yesterday.

A study published in the Lancet analysed information from Texas and Virginia, where about 45% of executions take place, and found executioners had no training in anaesthesia and administered the drugs remotely from behind a screen without monitoring for anaesthesia.

The researchers, led by Leonidas Koniaris of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, also analysed autopsy reports from 49 executions in Arizona, Georgia and North and South Carolina. In 43 cases concentrations of the anaesthetic in the blood were lower than required for surgery, and in 21 of those the levels were consistent with people retaining awareness.

It was possible, said the researchers, “that some of these inmates were fully aware during their executions. We certainly cannot conclude that these inmates were unconscious and insensate. However, with no monitoring, and with the use of the paralytic agent, any suffering of the inmate would be undetectable.”

Lethal injection has been used in 788 of the 956 executions since the US supreme court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The practice has been regarded as more humane than other methods such as electrocution, gas, hanging or gunfire.

The researchers call for an end to such executions pending a public review. In its editorial the Lancet lambasted doctors who were prepared to put people to death.

“Doctors should not be in the job of killing,” it said. “Those who do participate in this barbaric act are shameful examples of how a profession has allowed its values to be corrupted by state violence.”

The Guardian’s news coverage of the USA

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Guardian, UK
Apr. 15, 2005
James Meikle, Health Correspondent

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday April 15, 2005.
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