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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Experimental execution in the news

We live in an era where, in spite of overwhelming evidence that the death penalty is unnecessary to reduce crime, ineffective at providing justice, and fundamentally flawed because it is racially biased and a serious threat to the innocent, some states continue to cling to it. This is true, in spite of the national (and international) move away from capital punishment.

Facing shortages of lethal injection drugs, as well as serious legal challenges to the Constitutionality of the traditional three-drug protocol used to kill death row inmates, states are beginning to experiment--yes, EXPERIMENT--with new methods of death (as in by trying them out on living human beings).

Here is one witnesses description of a recent experimental execution in Ohio:


At about 10.31am, his stomach swelled up in an unusual way, as though he had a hernia or something like that. Between 10.33am and 10.44am – I could see a clock on the wall of the death house – he struggled and gasped audibly for air.

I was aghast. Over those 11 minutes or more he was fighting for breath, and I could see both of his fists were clenched the entire time. His gasps could be heard through the glass wall that separated us. Towards the end, the gasping faded into small puffs of his mouth. It was much like a fish lying along the shore puffing for that one gasp of air that would allow it to breathe. Time dragged on and I was helpless to do anything, sitting helplessly by as he struggled for breath. I desperately wanted out of that room.

For the next four minutes or so a medical tech listened for a heart beat on both sides of his chest. That seemed to drag on too, like some final cruel ritual, preventing us from leaving. Then, at 10.53am, the warden called the time of death, they closed the curtains, and that was it.

I came out of that room feeling that I had witnessed something ghastly. I was relieved to be out in the fresh air. There is no question in my mind that Dennis McGuire suffered greatly over many minutes. I'd been told that a "normal" execution lasted five minutes – this experimental two-drug concoction had taken 26 minutes. I consider that inhumane.


My state, North Carolina, has declared, by law, that lethal injection is not a medical procedure and thus doctors do not need to be present for an execution. Further, the General Assembly has replaced the three-drug protocol with a one-drug protocol (with an unnamed drug) so that it can resume executions by getting around pending lawsuits about the Constitutionality of lethal injection. In essence, the state wants to EXPERIMENT on a living human being.

Is this in the news? No, it is not.

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