Monday, January 07, 2008


Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Lethal Injection

Today, the US Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments on whether or not the current protocols of lethal injection are in violation of the 8th amendment of the Constitution which bans cruel and unusual punishment. The Justices are not being asked to rule on the constitutionality of the death penalty which was determined constitutional three decades ago. A wave of cases revolving around lethal injection across the United States in lower courts has piqued the attention of the highest court in the land. One of the key rulings was here in Tennessee in which Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that the current lethal injection protocols were unconstitutional. However, it was a case in Kentucky, Baez v. Rees, that made its way to Washington D.C. Supporters of the Kentucky petitioners stated that the current method poses an "unnecessary risk of pain and suffering."

The Knoxville Sentinel has an AP article covering the case and also includes a poll asking readers if they believe in capital punishment. Read the article HERE. If you could take one second and visit the above link and vote NO, you can make your voice heard. The article highlights one of the most confusing aspects of this case and the challenges being posed to capital punishment.

"But when the justices return from their holiday break and hear arguments today in a lethal injection case from Kentucky, their questions are unlikely to focus on whether capital punishment or even the method of lethal injection is right or wrong.

The two death row inmates whose challenge is before the court are not asking to be spared execution or death by injection. Their argument, at its most basic, is that there are ways to get the job done relatively pain-free."

The last blog post by Stacy highlighted the confusion that many have, including our own state's legislators. Lethal injection is still a viable method for execution--once the protocols are again deemed constitutional. I believe the hope of the US Supreme Court is to ensure that lethal injection is in fact lethal. I don't think that is much to ask for as a civilized Western nation in the year 2008.

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Comments :
Well, Ike, lethal injection is just that, lethal. Every time someone has been subjected to it, that person is killed.
True, but the current protocols still pose an unnecessary risk for inflicting pain. That is what I meant to express by questioning whether lethal injection is "lethal."

Thank you for pointing that out, I will be sure not to use that rhetoric the next time I am organizing. You are proving useful in critiquing my messaging, keep it up!
I fail to see how the current protocols present any real risk, other than the risk inherent in any human endeavor. You have to remember how this works. In order for the pain to occur, the pancuronium bromide and the potassium chloride must enter the veins--else, the prisoner will not be paralyzed or suffer the burns and the heart attack. So in order for that to happen, the delivery system must be working. But remember, the pentathol comes first, so unless we have an act of God, there is no way for the pentathol to not get into the veins, but for the pancuronium bromide or the potassium chloride to get there. Get it? How is it possible for the injections to work for the second and third chemicals injected, but not for the first?
"Other than the risk inherent in any human endeavor."

You are absolutely correct with that point. However, I think that the reason we are up in arms over this is because it would take such little effort in order to ensure lethal injections that pose less risk for inducing pain. Two things would work. The first is to include medical personnel in every execution that are trained on the protocol and carefully monitor the status of the inmate. The other would be to change the drug protocol to a one drug barbiturate similar to that used by vets.

"So in order for that to happen, the delivery system must be working."

Correct me if I'm wrong, are you purporting that the reason the current lethal injection protocols are a risk is the delivery mechanisms? I think the reason we are concerned is not the delivery method but the amount of chemicals being used and how the inmates are monitored. The amount of sodium thiopental (what is pentathol?) used was developed in an extremely arbitrary method by a doctor in Oklahoma in the 70s. Furthermore, states, within their statutes, use whatever amounts they prefer. States have this right, but I see little reason as to why the states don't have a method across the board for a seemingly simple action. If, and I know that you know this, there is not enough of the initial barbiturate used, and then the pavulon (pancuronium bromide) enters the veins, paralyzing the victims, any indications of pain will be totally masked. If they are now paralyzed, but become conscious due to a lack of sodium thiopental, we are now faced with the primary reason that the current lethal injection protocols pose a risk.

I don't know about the issues you are talking about. I'm sure they are also a concern and I'd like to hear more about them.
Pentothal is another name for thiopental. In any event, my point is simple. The pentothal is delivered in doses sufficient to knock out a horse. It is the first drug to hit the inmate. With respect to the pain, that is only caused if the third drug hits the inmate. So, it seems highly unlikely that the third drug would hit then inmate without the first drug hitting the inmate. Ergo, no real risk. See? If the connection was bad for the first, it stands to reason that it would be bad for the third, right.
"The pentothal is delivered in doses sufficient to knock out a horse."

I'm not an expert on protocols that exist throughout the states that use lethal injection because many are different. The dosage may be enough to knock out a horse, but for how long? This is the concern as it poses an unnecessary risk for the patient to regain consciousness as the 3rd drug is being administered.

Your logic based on the connection has nothing to do with the risk and reveals your myopic view of lethal injection. This isn't as simple as counting 1,2,3, done. I believe that is why it is being challenged and why the US Supreme Court took up the issue.
Ike, read up. They give the person so much pentothal that the guy is likely to be killed, which means he ain't waking up.
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