January 6, 2008
Posted: 01:31 AM ET
WASHINGTON - Seldom has the law of unintended consequences proved as perverse as when 36 states tried to make executions more humane but chose a lethal injection technique that may cause more pain than the shot a veterinarian would use to kill a horse.
On Monday the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the claim by two Kentucky inmates that the lethal injection technique used in executions is undependable and may cause excruciating and unnecessary pain.
The core of the problem is that the 36 state legislatures all adopted a complicated and untested three-shot injection procedure. It calls for a first shot to render the condemned man unconscious, a second one to paralyze the body and a final one to stop the heart.
The Kentucky inmates say the first shot may make the inmate unable to move or cry out, but may fail to spare him the fierce pain of having his breathing and heartbeat stopped by the second two shots.
The purpose of the Supreme Court case is to establish the standards the lower courts should follow in determining if the three-step injection process is, indeed, unnecessarily painful.
Why didn’t the states follow the advice they were given by veterinarians and other experts and adopt the painless one-shot technique used to euthanize animals? That involves a large injection of barbiturates, which quickly puts the animal to sleep and causes fatal cardiac arrest within minutes.
It will be interesting to see how the state’s lawyer answers that in Monday’s Supreme Court hearing. Critics of the three-step approach say one reason the states adopted it was because they didn’t want to be accused of killing an inmate like an animal—but the unintended consequence was to create a method of execution that may be unconstitutionally cruel.
– Fred Graham, In Session Senior Editor
Filed under: Death penalty
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