New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious After Execution Drugs Administered

A new report by the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, published in The Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, raises serious concerns that prisoners being executed likely are conscious after being administered the lethal drug cocktail that kills them. In the study, the group analyzed toxicology results from 49 executions:

The practice of lethal injection for execution perverts the tools of medicine and the trust the public has in drugs and clinical protocols. Although executioners use an anesthetic, the current dosages and means of administration do not assure that inmates are senseless to pain, particularly because inmates are not monitored for level of consciousness or depth of anesthesia,” said Leonidas G. Koniaris, M.D., associate professor of clinical surgery, cell biology and anatomy, and lead author of the letter.

“We found that 43 of 49 executed inmates had post-mortem blood anesthesia levels below that required for surgery, while 21 of those inmates had levels that were consistent with awareness,” said Teresa Zimmers, Ph.D., research assistant professor of surgery who analyzed the data for the research.

“This study provides strong evidence that anesthesia methodology in lethal injection is flawed and that some inmates likely experienced awareness and profound suffering during execution,” said Jonathan Sheldon. “While some think that the condemned deserve to suffer, our society long ago rejected the unnecessary infliction of pain in execution because it is contrary to our 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP)explains:

In most states, lethal injection executions consist of administration of three drugs. First, sodium thiopental is administered to render the prisoner unconscious. Then, pancuronium bromide is administered to cause paralysis. Finally, potassium chloride is given to stop the heart, thus causing death.

“Without anesthesia,” the authors write, “the condemned person would experience asphyxiation, a severe burning sensation, massive muscle cramping and finally cardiac arrest. Thus anesthesia is necessary both to mitigate the suffering of the condemned and to preserve public opinion that lethal injection is a near-painless death.”

Doctors cannot ethically participate in an execution so there is no way for them to assure sufficient anaesthesia is being administered. The report's researchers thus conclude:

...until better protocols are developed and tested and those delivering the executions are better trained to assure it is performed in a humane and competent fashion, execution by lethal injection should be stopped to prevent unnecessary cruelty and suffering.

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    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 01:10:11 PM EST
    Many of their victims were concious as they were executed as well.

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#2)
    by jondee on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 01:14:51 PM EST
    Yeah, all we have to do is emulate every barbarity, that'll teach em. Wait, what are we trying to teach again?

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#3)
    by Che's Lounge on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 01:28:08 PM EST
    Any medical practitioner who participates in the killing of a healthy individual who is not suffering a terminal event should have their license revoked. Gerry, What about the Iraqi children who are Bush's victims? They were concious too. What did they do to deserve what they got? Or are they murder victims too? What crime did thy commit? You are a hypocrite to decide who lives and who dies. You are certainly not God. But you seem to think so. Your blind faith in the justice system is sadly pathetic.

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#4)
    by jondee on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 01:33:35 PM EST
    Yeah, those kids deserved it. The fact that you question it proves you dont care that Iraq broke international law. Wait, I dont believe in international law.

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#5)
    by Sailor on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 01:50:36 PM EST
    Just as I thought, the rw doesn't think we kill people inhumanely enough, yet somehow they object when others cut the heads off people.

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#6)
    by wishful on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 01:57:46 PM EST
    That's appalling. Are we not human? We need to fix this, in honor of our own humanity if nothing else. (Poor, poor Gerry. May he soon be blessed with the humanity that he condemns convicted murders for not having.)

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 02:03:08 PM EST
    One word: COOL!!!!!

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#8)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 02:12:14 PM EST
    Kirsten, sounds like you and Gerry should get together for 9 1/2 weeks. Dont forget the video camera.

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#9)
    by desertswine on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 02:18:37 PM EST
    Maybe Gerry Owen should get to kill Eric Rudolph.

    Got to wonder what their deaths would have looked like if they hadn't been administered a paralysis drug. Got to wonder how they always managed to get sufficient paralysis drug while not getting enough anesthesia. Is it the paralysis drug that makes the executions appear humane?

    I'm all for using the most humane method of execution, and lethal injection was developed on the theory that it was better than other methods. If it's not, fine, let's go back to hanging and the firing squad--no problem here with that. The death penalty existed at, during, and subsequent to the drafting of the constitution, and it's not reasonable to contend that the prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" was intended to prohibit execution. So anyone who wants to claim that a given method of execution is cruel under the constitution needs to simultaneously specify the method he or she thinks is not cruel in constitutional terms. Otherwise you're saying that any sort of execution is constitutionally cruel, which is illogical.

    If it were about "humanely" killing them, we'd be giving them massive doses of heroin which would probably be a relatively painless way to die. That would of course be too gentle for the pound of flesh freaks who believe in the death penalty. Cheers, Alan Tomlinson

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#13)
    by Johnny on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 05:03:58 PM EST
    I agree with Alan. If it was about a more humane way to murder someone, an OD of Heroin would be the way to go. But heroin is illegal.

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#14)
    by cp on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 05:08:04 PM EST
    actually, the guillotine was probably the most humane, in terms of speed (1/270th of a second) and unquestionable lethality. no need to check for a pulse. granted, it's a bit messier than most other methods, but they all have their drawbacks. as far as the constitutionality of the death penalty itself is concerned, i would have to take issue with stephen's analysis. prior to, during the ratification process, and up to the 1930's, executions served at least two purposes: 1. exacting society's revenge against the condemned., and 2. serving as a warning to others of what would be their fate, were they to commit heinous crimes. executions were public affairs, to serve these purposes. since the late 30's, they have been carried out in private, with but a few select witnesses. in effect, the state has now become the vehicle of revenge for private parties, not society as a whole. that alone should qualify as "cruel and unusual", since the state has no business acting solely for the interests of private parties. certainly, this is by no means asserting that these people don't deserve punishment, but society as a whole should not place itself at the same level. to do so renders us hypocrites.

    actually, the guillotine was probably the most humane, in terms of speed (1/270th of a second) and unquestionable lethality. no need to check for a pulse.
    I read something once, but I don't have a cite, about death by guillotine. During the French Revolution one of the condemned agreed with two of his friends on an experiment to see how long death by guillotine took. He agreed to blink his eyes for as long as he could after his head was in the basket. He was able to blink for several seconds. But I do agree that making executions private moves them out of appropriate public service.

    OK, I do have a cite - isn't Google wonderful: aarrgghh Apparently the blinking lasted as long as 30 seconds. I searched on 'guillotine blink' and took the first page I found.

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#17)
    by Che's Lounge on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 07:47:47 PM EST
    You can apply all the caveats you want, but at it's core the death penalty is both cruel AND unusual. If peole can't see that killing a human being is cruel, there is something wrong. And if it's usual, then there is something VERY wrong. The problem does not originate with the people who are being executed. I think one of the most facinating things about the US constitution is that it inherently allows for the evolution of a society. They knew that they were just the beginning. The checks and balances were not written in to restrict us, but to allow us to progress. IMHO we are retarding our progress when we hold on to primitive concepts like capital punishment.

    gerry misses his days in tne service when he could murder and torture

    To Che's Lounge: Since you are so sensitive to the killing of a murderous felon, how would you classify the killing of an unborn fetus?

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#20)
    by cp on Wed Apr 13, 2005 at 11:01:26 PM EST
    allen, i am aware of the case. it was a very dedicated reseacher, who also happened to be a dr. unfortunately, there was no way to tell if the blinking was a conscious act, or merely reflex. there is some theory that holds that the severing is so quick, it takes a few seconds for the brain to get the message that it's dead. in those few seconds, the theory goes, the person suffers great pain. given the inability to actually test this theory, it remains just that. however, those few seconds are certainly far less than the time it takes to asphyxiate, be strangled, be fried, or die from gunshot wounds.

    how would you classify the killing of an unborn fetus
    Yeah, whatever. Apart from being a lame attempt to hijack the thread, your "argument" (if we can call such a pathetic soundbite an "argument") contains the ingredients necessary for its own contradiction. Life begins at birth. That's why you had to specify "unborn" in order to make your point. Sure, "birth" is an arbitrary date, but a whole lot more sensible than anything you can throw out, I'm sure. After all, we celebrate BIRTHDAYS, not "conceptiondays" or "end-of-26th-week-days". Or do you in fact celebrate the date of your conception and not of your birth? Or perhaps you celebrate your third month in the womb? Or the date from which current science might possibly be able to just about keep a very immature fetus alive outside the womb? Do you mourn a loss every time your wife/husband fails to conceive following intercourse? Do you believe we should have "funerals" for clusters of cells when a woman miscarries in the third week after conception? In short, are you completely unable to understand the difference between actual life and the potential for life?

    Allen - Is it the paralysis drug that makes the executions appear humane? That's exactly what it does and it's only being used for the convenience or "comfort" of the witnesses. Most people are still convinced that a person being executed merely falls asleep... A few years ago, in a TX hospital a woman was mistakenly injected with the second drug used in the lethal injection cocktail. For the first time, people were able to see its effect without the benefit of the paralyzing drug. The woman died three hours later after massive convulsions and screams of pain. Lethal Injection currently used by most states - not all use the same cocktail - is not up the veterinerian standards. In any case, there is no such thing as a "good" or clean method to kill a human being. This is the middle ages and it needs to stop.

    Actually, we would not have to use anything like heroin, a simple morphine drip being turned up slowly would be a peaceful way to expire. I think the reason we go with the current mix of chemicals is because it is faster. I am not certain that killing people is ever a necessity, but if/when it is, I am certain that we don't need to torture them in the process. The barbarians are in the ascendance these days though. Part of the irony of the culture of life.

    I remember reading somewhere that the guillotine was often dull and sometimes the condemned needed to be hacked several times to get the whole neck chopped. Was it one of Henry VIII's wives who prayed for a sharp blade on the block? The government isn't authorized to commit acts of revenge for individual citizens - victims or not. They are only authorized to punish in the name of a safer society. The death penalty, in this construct, is only appropriate for individuals who have committed horrendous acts (think Hannibal Lechter) and who are deemed to be too dangerous to take the chance that they would ever be parolled (i.e., that they would renew their criminal lifestyle at 50, 60, 70 or even eighty years old). For most premeditated murders I think twenty years is long enough to protect society from these offenders, provided they were random and that the opportunity to re-commit was probable. For the woman who kills her abusive husband and other acts of passion, for youthful offenders who have "problems", for drug addicts, for the once in a lifetime culmination of events that often leads to the commission of felonies, I don't want my tax money used to make one victim, or the relatives of one victim feel justified.

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#25)
    by cp on Thu Apr 14, 2005 at 07:20:54 AM EST
    mfox - yes, the blade needs to be kept sharp. one of the problems faced by executioners during the french revolution was that they were executing lots of people daily. hard to keep the blade sharp under those circumstances. then, of course, there is the issue of weight. louis XVI was a rather portly fellow. when louis was being led to his death, the executioner reportedly was concerned that the blade would have some difficulty with his neck: it was quite thick. per witnesses, the executioner's concerns were borne out: the blade didn't make it all the way through on first being dropped. the executioner had to, almost literally, stand on it, to get it completely through. must have been a pretty grisly spectacle. that said, it is certainly more dependable than the axe or sword, both of which require not only a sharp edge, but the keen eye of the wielder, not always in evidence. i believe it was macbeth who said, with respect to doing in duncan, "if 'tis to be done, 'tis best 'twere done quickly."

    CP - I'm feeling you today. I almost wish that I found bread more satisfying and circuses more entertaining. It would be easier than "seeing" the truth sometimes. Remember the Jackson Browne song? "Dr. my eyes have seen the years, and the slow parade of tears, I'm tryin won't you help me understand" Corny? So is Jeb Bush. Get over it.

    Jondee.... Wait, what are we trying to teach again? That if you kill someone... you will lose your life too! (that is of course unless the bleeding hearts yell & scream and tell us what barbarians we are... then, of course, people are free to kill and only suffer getting 3 squares a day, all the books they can read, all the workout equipment they can use, color TV...etc...etc.. - and all at the law abiding tax payers expense...etc..etc..) should I go on?

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#28)
    by Johnny on Thu Apr 14, 2005 at 09:07:13 AM EST
    B.B. are you espousing deterrence? Cuz if ya are, you might want to take a deep breath and think. Does it work? Absolutely not at all. It is a vengeance tool, plain and simple, and vengeance by mortals goes against every teaching in the christian bible. As does so-called judging... But the bible also says to be put to death if you disobey a judge. Hmmm.... Anyways, deterrence is a pathetic reason to argue for the murder-penalty. Anything but that.

    BB - Your comments betray how shallow your perceptions of a fulfilling life must be. Do you really feel that colour tv, free gym membership and a decent library is a subsitute for the richness of a life out in the world as a free man? Does cable TV make up for the fact that you may never hug your wife or your children again? That you will never be able to walk through a forest? Or swim in the sea? Or enjoy complete privacy and solitude? Maybe for you it would. If so, I pity you for the paucity of your life. For me, I think I'd rather they killed me than made me live like that until I died. This is what those who call for the death penalty seem to misunderstand. If living life without the freedom to do as you please is so cool, then why did we bother to invade Iraq to bring them "freedom"? Couldn't we just have air-dropped a load of 32-inch plasma screen TVs and some unsold Abdominizers?

    I find it quite amusing that for merely making a valid point concerning the victim's inhumane lack of anesthesia I get accused of being everything from a war criminal to inhuman. This situation is simply fixed by upping the anesthetic. The State wil then be back in line with showing a whole lot more compassion than the executed showed their victims. Heroin is not the answer, as someone comfortably numb usually tosses the cookies- cleaning up the last meals would be frightful. Ian- What would classify as a birth to oyu? There have been several instances of deranged women cutting babies out of the pregnant moms in the past couple of years. When did that "cluster of cells" become a "life"? When it was ripped out of mom's slaughtered belly, or when the crude knife cut the umbilical cord? At a certain point a fetus is viable enough to survive outside the womb, it can hear, move, suck his/her thumb, react to the sound of familiar voices- I do not claim to know when life begins, but I do believe it is a bit before the "birthday". desertswine- Eric Rudolph plead down to life. Not uncommon- the free food, free health care, lift weights and stay current on "General Hospital" at taxpayer expense seems to be much more popular option than the strap to a gurney and say goodbye plan.

    Johnny... B.B. are you espousing deterrence? No.... Deterence would be if they put to death everybody on death row immediately...and in view of the public. As long as lawyers (and lefties) can drag out appeals for 20 years and complain about how bad these poor murderers are treated...there is no deterence! Ian.... Do you really feel that colour tv, free gym membership and a decent library is a subsitute for the richness of a life out in the world as a free man? Of course not.... but that wasn't the issue. The issue is should these people get these things or should they get the punishment they gave out. I'm sure most of their victims would love to have those prison amenities rather than death! And by the way, all the gunk about not hugging the kids & all that was very touching but they should consider that before they take someone else's life.

    Ian: You believe that life begins when the baby exits the womb because that's when we as a society celebrate its "birth" and you think that my argument is lame!! That said, you have opened up my eyes. Since life begins at conception, that ought to be the birthday of the child. As a father of two who had the opportunity to observe that his kids were certainly alive well before "birth" (as you define it), you have made me realize the need to move my kids' birthdays to their date of conception.

    Y'know, I have no problem with capital punishment in theory. It's just every crummy little detail of it, as a practice--the unevenness of its application; the more-likely-than-expected chance of executing innocent people; the dragging of minors into it; the way, when its proponents talk about it, you'd swear their ED'd sudenly cleared up; the craptacularity of the criminal justice system it sits on, and now this--that get to me.

    GM - Where do you get your definition of when life begins if not from society as a whole? Are you gonna quote the Bible or some other "sacred" text to me? I prefer my argument to yours if that's the case. If not at birth, then when do you define the start of life? At conception? Really? Please, be serious here. And have you changed your definition of the point of life's beginning as medical science has enabled more and more severly premature-birthed children to survive? Theoretically, we'll eventually be able to keep fetuses alive from the moment of conception. Again I ask - do you really think we should have funerals when a woman miscarries? If so, I'm gonna get into the funeral business. If I may, I have an analogy here. (I apologise in advance to use a glib analogy to explore such a sensitive topic) Nonetheless, I feel that the only way I can explain to you the difference between ACTUAL life and the POTENTIAL for life is this: If I buy a lottery ticket, that ticket is not ACTUALLY a million dollars. Instead, it represents merely the POTENTIAL of a million dollars. Until the date of the actual draw (which in this rather crass analogy, is equivalent to birth) the ticket is simply a ticket, not a million bucks. Does that help make it clear?

    You guys can sit around and debate this until the cows come home. The fact is, that that bunch of cells, or viable fetus, or whatever you want to call it is a part of my body until it exits of its own volition. Therefore, any decision about whether I am physically, mentally, morally, financially, emotionally capable of raising a viable adult from that cluster of cells is my own goddam business (along with my doctor). And just so you know, I was given up for adoption by a mother who didn't want me (she said she would have had an abortion if it was legal) and adopted by another mother who didn't want me (she was pissed she couldn't have her own). Based on my experiences I don't think anyone should be forced to bring an unwanted, unloved child into the world. Nor should they be forced to birth a severly disabled child who will require a lifetime of physical, emotional and financial sacrifice. etc., etc.

    Dead murderers can't ever kill again. End of story.

    ...or whatever you want to call it is a part of my body until it exits of its own volition...
    that's the point, while the baby is still in the womb, "it's you", not a sentient being, not another citizen, has the potential for such (holding 3 mega-million lotto tickets for friday) but until it exits your body there is only possible potential. ?how many prisoners do you think were unwanted babies? probably a whole heck of a lot. as for you wingnuts spewing "prison union propaganda", days watching tv, lifting weights, free medical care (you skipped the post on this site about SanQ huh), you need to stop watching way to much tv (oz was gritty/graphic, but still fiction) and take you a trip to at least a minimum-security prison (ask martha), that ain't what the day is made of, they get some personal time, but to those who know it ain't no boys/girls camp. Reality Check how profound, figure that one out by yourself eh!

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#38)
    by Johnny on Thu Apr 14, 2005 at 04:04:33 PM EST
    I will concede the swift punishment as deterrence theory, but sorry, this isn't China, we don't have death squads cruising in Dodge Caravans cutting down criminals. We have a system in place, flawed as it may be, and as prone to vengeful bloodthirst as it is, it is there to rpevent exactly what happens in China from heppening here. Due process. So the swift punishment theory cannot apply here. The public ecxecution, well, they tried that here, and it turned out that people kill people no matter the penalty. As desperatly as people want to believe that it will send a message, it doesn't. I won't even go into the "state murdered how many innocent people" spiel either. Too many flaws in everybodies favorite way to kill human beings.

    Come on! You can't compare prisoners to unwated babies... This is ridiculous. Nobody can judge or criticize a woman's decision whether she should or shouldn't not have a child. A woman's body belongs to her only, whether you like it or not, that's the reality. As a woman, I've been lucky not to have ever needed to have an abortion, but I'm glad that the choice does exist, I've fought for this right and I continue to do so for my daughter.

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#40)
    by Che's Lounge on Thu Apr 14, 2005 at 06:44:45 PM EST
    GM, Pregnancy is a medical condition, which is a subject discussed between a woman and her doctor. It's none of my business what a woman does with any part of her body. It's HER body. Sorry to be OT there for a moment TL but a troll needed to be squished.

    Re: New Medical Report: Inmates Likely Conscious (none / 0) (#41)
    by cp on Thu Apr 14, 2005 at 09:41:44 PM EST
    GM, i would be curious to know if you are successful in having the dates on your children's birth certificates changed by the state, when you tell them that it is really the date of their conception, 9 months earlier. actually, how do you know the exact date of their conception?

    Andy Kahan, victims' rights advocate from Houston, said this in response to the findings: "Wether or not it is painful, one thing is for sure, it is certainly less painful than the excrciating and horrific death that the victim suffered at the hand of defendant." Kahan's ways or reasoning is not at all uncommon in the US. (For example the first post, by Gerry Owen, in this thread.) But isn't it extremelt awkward to use the acts of a murderer as a moral measurement for our own behaviour?

    Lohay- "But isn't it extremelt awkward to use the acts of a murderer as a moral measurement for our own behaviour?" That's a good point but a bit of a stretch. I think we lose sight of why these poor souls are ending up there in the first place. This is not a big deal for me- up the anesthetic and problem solved.

    Heroin is a synethic opioid derived from morphine. It is not illegal per se. It is only illegal to prescribe, possess, administer etc as a medication under the CSA because it is a Schedule I drug. It can still be used in federally approved research. However, the point about heroin is important because any opioid like morphine, dilaudid, fentanyl, all of which are more widely available and CSII drugs, would be an easy way to induce death and ensure it was painless. Strong opioids are all equally potent in inducing respiratory depression. It seems suspicious that such a tedious combination was used for so long with no one ever suggesting a fool-proof answer.