More Death Penalty Drug Problems

Posted in GSU photo archive, Politics, The Death Penalty by chamblee54 on January 17, 2014








The state of Ohio conducted an experiment. The idea was to execute Dennis McGuire. Since the agents of death used previously were not available, the state used “an injection of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative.”

While Mr. McGuire did perish, it was not a smooth departure. “After being injected at 10:29 a.m., about four minutes later McGuire started struggling and gasping loudly for air, making snorting and choking sounds which lasted for at least 10 minutes. His chest heaved and his left fist clinched as deep, snorting sounds emanated from his mouth. However, for the last several minutes before he was pronounced dead, he was still.”

Botched executions are an old story. They predate the chemical executions, with grossout stories about hanging and electrocution. The architect of the current method of pharmaceutical elimination, Dr. Jay Chapman, reports “He added that he’s heard reports that in one execution, the IV needle was inserted incorrectly, pointing toward the prisoner’s hand rather than his body. “You have to be an idiot to do that,” said Chapman, who’s a forensic pathologist… He also criticized prison officials for inserting the IV inside the death chamber rather than beforehand. “It seems ridiculous to me to be trying to find a vein when everyone’s inside the chamber, feeling nervous and fiddling around trying to find the vein,” he said. “That’s just ludicrous to me.” These quotes are from an interview, where Dr. Chapman says, of the execution protocol, “It may be time to change it. There are many problems that can arise … given the concerns people are raising with the protocol it should be re-examined.”

Here is the story about the creation of the chemical injection protocol. Ohio is not the first state to stumble blindly into the business of dispatching inmates with an inter venous injection.

In 1977, Oklahoma enacted the first lethal injection statute. Its history illustrates the minimal inquiry legislators conducted before selecting a specific method of lethal injection. Facing the expensive prospect of fixing the state’s broken electric chair, the Oklahoma legislature was looking for a cheaper and more humane way to execute its condemned inmates. State Assembly member Bill Wiseman wanted to introduce a bill in the Oklahoma House of Representatives allowing for lethal injection executions in Oklahoma. In 1976, he approached the Oklahoma Medical Association for help developing a drug protocol, but it refused to get involved based on ethical concerns about the cooperation of medical professionals in the development of execution methods. Wiseman approached Dr. Jay Chapman, the state’s medical examiner, and asked for his help in drafting a lethal injection statute. Despite having “no experience with this sort of thing,” Chapman agreed to help Wiseman. Sitting in Wiseman’s office in the Capitol, Chapman dictated the following lines, which Wiseman jotted down on a yellow legal pad: “An intravenous saline drip shall be started in the prisoner’s arm, into which shall be introduced a lethal injection consisting of an ultra-short-acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical paralytic.” Meanwhile, State Senator Bill Dawson, concerned about the cost of replacing Oklahoma’s broken electric chair, was also interested in introducing a lethal injection bill in the Oklahoma Senate. Senator Dawson consulted with his friend, Dr. Stanley Deutsch, then head of the Oklahoma Medical School’s Anesthesiology Department. After reviewing the language Chapman had composed for Assembly member Wiseman, Deutsch noted, in a letter to Senator Dawson, that anesthetizing condemned inmates would be a “rapidly pleasant way of producing unconsciousness.”

Oklahoma’s state statute copies nearly word-for-word the methods proposed by Chapman and approved in Deutsch’s brief letter, stating that “the punishment of death must be inflicted by continuous, intravenous administration of a lethal quantity of an ultra-short-acting barbiturate” in “combination with a chemical paralytic agent until death is pronounced by a licensed physician according to accepted standards of medical practice.” There is no evidence that Oklahoma state legislators consulted any other medical experts before adopting their lethal injection statute. Human Rights Watch asked Chapman why he chose the two drugs (an ultra-short-acting barbiturate and a paralytic agent) for lethal injection executions. He stated: “I didn’t do any research. I just knew from having been placed under anesthesia myself, what we needed. I wanted to have at least two drugs in doses that would each kill the prisoner … if one didn’t kill him, the other would.” …

In addition to his work on the statute, Chapman developed the original three-drug protocol used by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Although Oklahoma’s statute specifies two drugs, Chapman included a third drug, potassium chloride. When Human Rights Watch asked Chapman why he added a third drug to the two drugs specified in the statute, he replied, “Why not?” He went on to explain that, even though the other chemicals, in the dosages called for, would kill the prisoner, “You just wanted to make sure the prisoner was dead at the end, so why not just add a third lethal drug?” He is not sure why he picked potassium chloride. “I didn’t do any research … it’s just common knowledge. Doctors know potassium chloride is lethal. Why does it matter why I chose it?”

This story illustrates the way states went about doing things. “We were getting ready to hang up the phone, and I said, ‘I have but just one question I need to ask you,” Courts said. “Every other state I have spoken to is using 2 grams of sodium pentothal. Why are y’all using five?’ And he started laughing and said, ‘Well, you see, when we did our very first execution, the only thing I had on hand was a 5-gram vial. And rather than do the paperwork on wasting 3 grams, we just gave all five.’”

The Oklahoma plan was copied by the other states looking for a different way to execute the condemned. It became known as the Kentucky Protocol, and was approved for use by SCOTUS. PG is not a lawyer, and does not know if this ruling applies to the Ohio method. The Buckeye state has several executions scheduled in the next two years. No executions are scheduled in Georgia.

Pictures are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”.









3 Responses

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  1. Rhetoric Abuse | Chamblee54 said, on January 21, 2014 at 5:55 am

    […] his stash ~ 1-The original three drug protocol, for executions, the Kentucky protocol, was also haphazardly arrived at. It seems to be the case in this Ohio execution. 2- The drugs used in executions are manufactured by […]

  2. […] excused. Chamblee54 has written about lethal injection problems one, two, three, four, five, six, seven times. In 2007, the New York Times published The Needle and the Damage Done, which discusses many […]

  3. […] excused. Chamblee54 has written about lethal injection problems one, two, three, four, five, six, seven times. In 2007, the New York Times published The Needle and the Damage Done, which discusses these […]

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