Lethal Injection Agnostic

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 12.10.42 AMIs there such thing as a humane way of executing an individual? Lethal injection has been considered the most humane way of execution to date. It is the most common and most favored method of execution in America. In Baze v. Rees (2008), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection for capital punishment. By a vote of 7-2, the Court found the use of lethal injection not cruel and not unusual. However, there were several individual concurrences by five of the judges and one dissent by two judges. This shows a divided opinion on the use of lethal injection and no unity within the Supreme Court. Just like the Supreme Court, I am also divided on my position on the use of lethal injection. I am a lethal injection agnostic.
This debate has come alive again with the recent “botched” execution of Clayton Lockett. Clayton Lockett murdered Stephanie Neiman fifteen years ago. He, along with two accomplices, beat Stephanie up, shot her, and buried her alive in a grave. Unlike his accomplices, Mr. Lockett did not receive a life sentence. Mr. Lockett received the death sentence and the method was by lethal injection. After he received the lethal injection, it took him 43 minutes to die. People in the execution chamber described his final moments as a lot of “writhing, groaning, convulsing, and mumbling”. Because of his negative reactions to the lethal injection, the second execution was postponed.
Currently, states are using a three-drug compound for the lethal injection. The first drug is to make the person unconscious, the second drug paralyzes the muscles of the body, and the third drug stops the heart. Normally, America gets these drugs from pharmaceutical companies in Europe. However, these companies do not supply these drugs to America anymore because they refuse to be a part of the death penalty process. All of Europe, except Belarus and Kazakhstan, has completely abolished the death penalty. This leaves our criminal justice system to look elsewhere for these drugs. Currently, lightly regulated, non-major pharmaceutical companies supply these drugs. The catch is, these companies are allowed to remain anonymous because they fear public backlash and a ruined reputation. John Hopkins Clinic for Public Health and Policy released a report that says states that still execute prisoners with lethal injections are experimenting with drugs outside of federal regulations. States are supposed to submit drug protocols to United States Food and Drug Administration before killing prisoners but the states haven’t been doing that. The anonymity of these companies is cause for concern to death penalty opponents. The Constitution Project Panel urged for no secrecy and only use of FDA drugs. However, this seems to be a catch-22 as it’s a good solution but the means aren’t there. Not to mention, at the time of execution, the people who administer the drugs have very minimal medical training. Doctors cannot perform the executions as it violates the Hippocratic oath. Therefore, the professionalism of the execution is questionable.
Lethal injection is considered the most humane form of execution. At the same time, it’s the most botched execution. Lethal injections are botched 7% of the time. Compared to other methods: 5% of gassings are botched, 3% of hangings are botched, and 2% of electrocutions are botched. This shows lethal injection is the least effective of the methods. What are the states supposed to do when lethal injection was the compromise between death penalty supporters and non-supporters. It’s the least macabre, least gruesome, and least abhorrent to see. But does the amount of mistakes that occurs in lethal injections make it just as bad as hangings, gassings, and electrocutions?
Lockett’s execution was not the first “botched” execution. Opponents of lethal injection also point to two other cases where the lethal injection went terribly wrong. Opponents liken lethal injection to human experimentation and I would have to agree. In Lockett’s execution, the concoction for the drugs was experimental and has never been used before. In January, Dennis McGuire suffered the same fate as Lockett. The lethal injection cocktail used on him was never tested and it took him 26 minutes to die. He was described as struggling and gasping for air. Botched lethal injections are blamed on three things: inability to find suitable veins, human error, and adverse reactions. Romell Broom is the only man to survive his own execution and he is still sitting on death row. During his execution, prison workers took two hours and 23 minutes trying to find a useable vein to insert the needle. Mr. Broom cried and winced the whole time until the execution was called off. In terms of human error, most botched lethal injections are because of an improperly placed catheter. Finally, in terms of adverse reaction, the obese and previous heroin users suffer negative symptoms from the injection.
After Dennis McGuire, Ohio has decided to increase the dosage for lethal injection in future executions. This can be seem as proof the states don’t know what they are doing and is an admittance that McGuire’s execution didn’t go as planned. Opponents of lethal injection call the states “reckless” with experimentation. McGuire’s family has sued the state of Ohio for the botched execution. But the state says the symptoms McGuire exhibited are consistent with what the drug is “supposed” to do and that McGuire did not suffer. The next scheduled execution in Ohio will take place in May 28. McGuire’s lawyer is shocked that the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections will experiment again. The lawyer is asking for a moratorium on executions until the courts can evaluate the new dosage but it is unknown if that moratorium will be acknowledged.
Supporters of lethal injection are not easily swayed. They claim lethal injection is not cruel and unusual. Rather it is humane and it is justice. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once said, “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection”. There is even less sympathy in the hometown of Lockett’s victim, Stephanie Neiman. There are no tears for Lockett in her hometown. Oklahoma is largely in favor of the death penalty. Mark L. Gibson, a retired district attorney who handled Lockett’s case, said Locket deserved the death penalty. Lockett has been described as not remorseful. He never apologized for what he did and he threatened the witnesses of his crime. Lockett displayed bad behavior behind bars, as well. He would throw feces at the prison guards and make makeshift knives to threaten the guards and other inmates. He was given a chance to plead for mercy at a legal proceeding but he never showed up. Instead, Susie Neiman (Stephanie’s mother) read her victim’s impact statement. She read, “We have had to endure a living hell for the past 15 years”. She described her life as meaningless since Stephanie died and Lockett serves as a reminder of her suffering. In fact, she asked for the death penalty for Lockett. Mr. Gibson is unsure if Lockett got what he deserved. He doesn’t feel sorry for Lockett but he’s unsure if Lockett suffered as much as Stephanie. Members of social media websites also share these sentiments as well. On Facebook, a poll was taken regarding the death penalty and its methods. The common responses are as follows: we should kill the murderer in public, we should torture and kill the murderer in the exact same fashion as the victim, we should let the victim’s family beat the murderer to death, or we should hang the murderer outside the courthouse right after the guilty verdict. The commonplace of lethal injection supporters seems to be that lethal injection is too easy of a death and it’s not really an eye-for-an-eye.
After exhaustive research of lethal injection, I still have not taken a side in this debate. Deep down, I believe a person who undoubtedly committed a heinous crime should suffer a lot. I empathize with those who consider lethal injection to be an easy death. Like Mr. Gibson, I am unsure if Lockett suffered enough for his crime. However, there is something about all the secrecy shrouding lethal injection that makes me hesitant and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If we undoubtedly have the right murderer, then shouldn’t our states be proud of the execution? And if you’re proud of something, you shouldn’t be afraid to show it right? Even if the secrecy is to protect the pharmaceutical companies, I think it echoes a different message. The message is that our nation as a whole isn’t 100% sure what it’s doing is right concerning lethal injections and we aren’t 100% sure if the lethal injection is truly the most humane method of execution.


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