Calif. Proposes New Execution Procedures

California prison authorities proposed their new plan for executions today, aimed at alleviating criticism over past practices, in which there was no assurance the dying inmate wasn't feeling pain.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the new plan.

Aiming at ending a 16-month legal moratorium on capital punishment in California, state corrections officials today proposed new lethal injection execution procedures they say "will result in the dignified end of life" for condemned inmates.

The state acted in response to a December decision by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, who concluded that the state's implementation of the death penalty amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and may have subjected six inmates to excruciatingly painful ends.

The new proposals are listed below:

California, like three dozen other states around the country, uses a three-drug cocktail to kill condemned inmates. State officials said
today that they had considered switching to a one-chemical protocol, which the judge had suggested as a possibility in his December
ruling. Corrections officials said they would stick with the three- drug protocol but would "substantially revise it."

They said the changes in procedure will assure that the condemned inmate is rendered unconscious by the first drug--sodium thiopental, a fast-acting barbiturate--and will remain unconscious during the injection of pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the inmate, and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest.

They also said they would complete construction of a new death chamber, as the existing facility at San Quentin Prison, originally the gas chamber, had to be maintained in case any inmates choose that method of execution.

My favorite article on the topic remains, You Wouldn't Do a Dog This Way, which I posted here in March, 2004.

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    I'm supposed to be WORKING! (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Che's Lounge on Wed May 16, 2007 at 09:51:12 AM EST
    Maybe this will be useful:  

    The second stage of anesthetic induction is called delerium, because prior to cessation of breathing, the patient (sic) has a brief (few seconds) moment of skeletal muscle contraction and some tremulousness that can be mistaken for an awake response. In theory backed by experience, the person is already unconscious. This is followed by cessation of breathing as the diaphragm is paralyzed by the pancuronium (brand name Pancuron). It is this moment that the potential for an awakening is most undesirable and possible, especially if the Pentothal wears off or has not been properly absorbed. To be awake and not be able to breathe is probably one of the most terrifying sensations that a human can experience. Remember, the Pentothal and Pancuron are VERY short acting (maybe around 10 minutes if you don't check vitals and redose as needed). The effects of the potassium chloride (KCl) are more "permanent". Once the heart stops, loss of conciousness (LOC) occurs within seconds due to lack of perfusion of the cerebral cortex, where our supposed "higher" functions reside, though this practice contradicts THAT theory, eh?  

    Many of the condemned have difficult IV acccess, due to addiction, etc. which can cause extravasation (leakage) of IV medications into the surrounding tissues instead of into the vein (also a complication of poor technique). This nearly eliminates the drug's effectiveness, irregardless of the dosage. I do not know if this happened in any of the executions that have occurred, but you need an experienced person to ID it.

    So technically it is possible (obviously since this is the MO of general anesthesia-without the potassium), but as you say, not anywhere near the ballpark of dignified, or moral.

    Hope that helps.

    Thanks Che! (none / 0) (#3)
    by HK on Wed May 16, 2007 at 10:12:48 AM EST
    That was really informative and useful.  As for this...

    I do not know if this happened in any of the executions that have occurred

    ...if I have understood properly, I think that this is an example of leakage of IV medications into the surrounding tissues during an execution.

    You can get back to work now ;0)


    Putting aside (none / 0) (#1)
    by HK on Wed May 16, 2007 at 03:51:43 AM EST
    how deeply chilling I find this response from the State and the emotion I have vested in this particular case, I still find this appalling.  Surely I am not the only one who find this comment sick:

    new lethal injection execution procedures they say "will result in the dignified end of life" for condemned inmates.

    Can we say that the end of life for anyone who cannot accept their fate is dignified?  Would anyone consider being strapped to a gurney in front of witnesses who have come to see you invountarily euthanised 'dignified'?  I really struggle to follow their logic on that one, if there is any.

    But that aside, I think that their decision to stick by the three drug protocol shows how unwilling they are to truly change.  The adjustments of the quantities of drugs make no sense to me.  (Although as a layman - even one with a special interest in this subject - maybe I'm missing something.  I'd love to hear Che's comments on this as he has much more knowledge in this area than I do.)  If the State is honestly satisfied that they can successfully sedate the inmate, then the pancuronium bromide is not necessary.  It is simply a cover-all for any mistakes and to keep anyone in the audience from unpleasant viewing (Heaven forbid).

    I also find it interesting that anyone on the new execution team cannot have worked on the death row section of the prison for the past year.  The vast majority of inmates have been there for much, much longer than that (Mike Morales who brought this case has been there for over a quarter of a century) so that 'safeguard' is a little poor.  But on the other hand, if the death penalty is a good thing, then should it matter if members of the execution team have had contact with the prisoner?  After all, he deserves to die...right?

    Gee thanks HK (none / 0) (#4)
    by Che's Lounge on Wed May 16, 2007 at 02:08:18 PM EST
    It looks like that's what happened. So he was probably aware and yet possibly partially paralyzed at the same time for what would seem like an eternity (37 minutes is a long time to die IMO). People may judge for themselves whether this is cruel or unusual. I've made up my mind.

    Let them eat cake.... (none / 0) (#5)
    by squeaky on Wed May 16, 2007 at 02:17:41 PM EST
    The Terminator talking about dignity. It would be hilarious If it were not so tragic.