In 1976 lethal injection became a legally sanctioned method of execution and was quickly adopted by the majority of states. In the thirty years since its implementation, lethal injection is still considered to be the most humane means of executing a death row inmate and is the preferred method in 37 of the 38 states in which capital punishment is legal. While death by electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, and the firing squad have remained legal, 901 death row inmates have been executed via lethal injection, as opposed to the 169 persons executed by one of the other legalized methods (Dieter, DPIC). Despite common conceptions of lethal injection as a calm, painless, and relatively peaceful procedure, several incidents prove otherwise as disputes rage concerning lethal injection as a violation of the Eighth Amendment's protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Because of the exceedingly high percentage of botched executions, lethal injection must be both reformed and regulated in every state with the help of doctors, nurses, and trained professionals to ensure that it is administered in a manner that does not result in cruel or unusual punishment.
[...] The Furman case set precedence by expanding the interpretation of the Eighth Amendment to consider both evolving moral standards and a disregard for human dignity as inherent in the definition of cruel and unusual punishment. In additional cases, the court concluded that capital punishment must cause unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, physical violence, or offense to human decency” (Acker 719). However, these largely ambiguous statements have resulted in ceaseless debate, thus warranting a more narrowly defined relationship between capital punishment and the Eighth Amendment. [...]
[...] Stephen McCoy's injections provide indisputable evidence of cruel and unusual punishment. McCoy had a violent physical reaction, which most likely could have been avoided with an earlier examination and physician oversight. “According to witnesses, McCoy gagged, coughed violently, and underwent bodily contortions. One witness fainted, and the attorney general suggested that perhaps the required dose of chemicals had been underestimated” (Haines 128). In the case of Rickey Ray Rector, a severely obese, brain damaged convict who was executed in Arkansas, “moaned in pain as the execution team spent 50 minutes jabbing his flesh in search of a suitable vein” (Anderson par 18). [...]
[...] For inmates who have previously used intravenous drugs, injections into the muscle as opposed to veins would also reduce the likelihood of a prolonged and painful process of lethal injection (Grady par 19). While medical experts have identified alternative protocols that would be less likely to harm the inmate, these changes, such as a higher dosage of anesthesia, would ultimately lengthen the procedure and make it more difficult for the executioner and the witness. In assessing the impact of capital punishment on the executioner and the witness, it has become clear that “[death by needle] is easier for the executioners. [...]
[...] He concluded that “methods of lethal injection anesthesia are flawed, and some inmates might experience awareness and suffering during execution” (Fuentes par 6). The Lancet Study also revealed that in Texas and Virginia, executioners were mostly untrained professionals who administered injections with no monitoring of the dosage or the injection. Dr. Lubarsky found that these states failed to keep records regarding the anesthesia and that no peer- review was done to evaluate potentially botched procedures (Dieter, DPIC). It is worth noting, however, that other anesthesiologists many of whom are personally opposed to the death penalty have challenged the validity of this study, saying that the blood samples were drawn too long after the death to give a reliable measure of the chemicals in the blood during execution (Grady par 34). [...]
[...] Now, it is not the responsibility of doctors and nurses alone to ensure that lethal injections do not violate an inmate's Eighth Amendment rights. Clearly individual states must acknowledge the significance of “botched” executions and must provide legislation to clarify the injection process. Until then, lethal injection will continue to violate one's freedom from cruel and unusual punishment and one's right to die with some element of human dignity. Works Cited Acker, James R., Bohm, Robert M., and Lanier, Charles S. America's Experiment with Capital Punishment. 2nd ed. Durham: Carolina Academic Press Anderson, David C. Wears the Blindfold at Executions?” [...]
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