Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Ohio has now become the first state to use a single drug method for executing prisoners. Their previous three drug method was stopped by the Ohio Supreme Court for being cruel and unusual. This moratorium on capital punishment came about when the execution of Romell Broom was halted because a vein could not be found to start the IV. He was reportedly stuck 18 times before the procedure was called off. His lawyer argued in court that being poked with a needle 18 times was inhumane. They said that the three drug execution could cause severe pain and suffering if the initial dose of thiopental did not adequately sedate the prisoner. The prisoner would then suffer severe pain when paralyzed and potassium was injected to stop the heart. The state will now use only thiopental for executions, using a dose 2 1/2 times greater than normal to put the prisoner to sleep and slowly watch him go apneic and hopefully die in his sleep.

There are so many flaws with this. First of all, the only painful part seems to be getting stuck multiple times trying to get an IV. But this is no different from what many hospital patients suffer every day. These prisoners frequently are IV drug abusers so they have few accessible veins. Remember that prisoners are placed on death row because of the inhumane despicable acts they committed. Mr. Broom raped and murdered a frightened 14 year old girl. He now complains that getting stuck with needles is inhumane? His victim did not have the luxury of being sedated when she was tortured and killed.

The lawyers also argued that prisoners would feel pain if they were not adequately sedated. But how would anyone know? Nobody is arguing that the three drug cocktail is ineffective. This raises the old philosophical question about trees falling in the forest and nobody is around to hear it. If the prisoner dies from a lethal injection but isn't around to complain about the pain during the injection, did he really have pain?

Is a single overdose of thiopental adequate for an execution? It's only used routinely in veterinary euthanasia. All other state executions add a paralytic and potassium to stop the respiratory and cardiac functions. Many of these prisoners have histories of IV drug abuse. That's why their veins are difficult to find. It might take a larger dose of pentathol to cause death than they calculate. Since these prisoners have bad veins, there is also a high likelihood that their IVs may infiltrate upon injection, causing excruciating pain as the pentathol is forced into the musculature. Will that lead to another moratorium on executions?

It seems like our society coddle these murders. They commit atrocious acts and yet expect to be treated like some hospital patient. The lawyers and judges need to watch the History Channel to remember what real cruel and unusual punishment was: dismemberment, disembowelment, burnings, drownings, beheadings, etc. I believe this one drug method will ultimately fail as a prisoner will wake up from the seeming "lethal" dose of pentathol and complain that he suffered during the execution.

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