NEW RESOURCE: Human Rights Watch Report Examines Lethal Injection
A new report issued by Human Rights Watch today notes that most U.S. states use execution methods that needlessly risk excruciating pain for inmates subjected to lethal injections. The report, "So Long as They Die: Lethal Injections in the United States," examines the history of lethal injections and the widespread use of protocols that were created three decades ago with no scientific research. "The U.S. takes more care killing dogs than people. Just because a prisoner may have killed without care or conscience does not mean that the the state should follow suit," notes Jamie Fellner, U.S. program director at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report.
Based on recent research suggesting that some prisoners may have been inadequately anesthetized during their executions and then experienced searing pain without the ability to indicate their condition, Human Rights Watch is urging states to halt executions by lethal injection until a thorough assessment of existing and alternative methods has been conducted. The group, which opposes capital punishment, notes that the current three-drug sequence used in the U.S. (sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride) was developed in 1977 by a medical examiner in Oklahoma who had no expertise in pharmacology or anesthesia. This same drug combination is now used in at least 34 death penalty states. In the years since the protocol's development, it appears that no state has consulted medical experts to determine whether the combination could be altered to lessen the risk of pain. "Copycatting is not the right way to decide how to put people to death. If a state is going to execute someone, it must do its homework, consult with experts, and select a method designed to inflict the least possible pain and suffering," Fellner stated.
This year, federal courts in California and North Caroina have refused to permit scheduled executions to take place using the standard lethal injection protocol. On April 26, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the procedures a prisoner can follow to challenge lethal injections. Until recently, the U.S. was the only country in the world that used lethal injection as an execution method. In recent years, China, Guatemala, the Philippines, and Thailand have also adopted this method. (Human Rights Watch Press Release, "U.S.: States Negligent in Use of Lethal Injections," April 24, 2006).
Read the full report: So Long as They Die: Lethal Injections in the United States. See also, Methods of Execution, Resources and DPIC's page on executions stayed and carried out since January.