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December 21, 2006

Is it time to seriously consider alternatives to lethal injection?

200_executionOver at ODPI, one can find here a notable collection of posts and commentaries in which various folks, responding to the lethal injection brouhaha, have identified various new and old execution procedures that might be explored.  Though some of the suggestions are not completely serious, the topic of execution methods is a fascinating story historically.  (For anyone interested in a little morbid legal history, check out detailed in discussions here and here about the electric chair, and this discussion of older execution techniques.)

Though this is a topic that can readily turn ugly or inappropriate (and my choice of a graphic here perhaps does not help), I would be grateful for serious input about whether states interested in continuing to employ the death penalty should start exploring alternatives to lethal injection.  In Florida and California and elsewhere, the topic right now is how lethal injections can be done better.  But would it be more sensible for states to be looking more broadly to, and more closely at, realistic alternatives?

December 21, 2006 at 03:26 PM | Permalink


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The most humane method: Massive dose of barbituates.

The method I would chose for myself if forced to make such a choice: Firing Squad. Let it be clear to all witnesses that an execution is a homicide, not a medical procedure.

Posted by: D | Dec 21, 2006 8:37:34 PM

There is a simple solution to this whole problem (aside from getting rid of the death penalty). An opiate overdose is painless (extremely pleasant at first then drift off into unconsciousness and stop breathing, ultimately suffocating), as fast if not faster than drug coctails currently used, peaceful, certain, easy to administer, and unquestionably not cruel or unusual as a method of execution. There are many opiates/opioids which could do the job. A simple morphine or diacetylmorphine overdose would suffice, although fentanyl and certain fentanyl analogues are anywhere from 80 to 10,000 times stronger than morphine and would be that much more foolproof, particularly if the executionee had a high tolerance to opiates from years of addiction (although that tolerance would have gone down during years spent on death row without drugs).

As D notes, massive doses of barbiturates (particularly secobarbital and pentobarbital) would work too, as they will cause a coma and ultimately brain death. Pentobarbital is what vets use to euthanize animals (who always get it better than humans). However, nobody could argue that opiates/opioids are painful or cruel in any way. Plus, you'd think prohibitionists would like the added stigma it would place on highly abused opiates. Administer 15,000mg of oxycodone instead of the flawed, painful, and shockingly cruel pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride combo (given with a a strong but not the strongest barbiturate) and all of these 8th Amendment execution method challenges will become moot.

The sad thing is, this will never happen because deep down inside, all pro-death penalty people want the condemned to suffer as much as constitutionally permitted. A lethal shot of heroin is just too sympathetic and kind to be doled out to a murderer. These people think Jesus suffered on the cross without so much as a tylenol, so convicted killers should suffer during their execution, too, lest Jesus' sacrifice be diminished. This is the dirty little secret of death penalty supporters. A truly painless method of execution won't be toleratd. It just has to LOOK painless, ergo the pancuronium bromide coctail--it paralyzes the condemned so his body can't convey any of the agony of which he is conscious.

HWJK? How would Jesus Kill? He wouldn't. But if he had to, he would choose the most painless method available. That is currently a massive opiate overdose.

Posted by: Bruce | Dec 21, 2006 10:44:32 PM

Although I don't favor the death penalty, I recognize the need for some form of punishment worse than life in prison. We have to recognize that there are people among us who are inherently evil or are simply predators incapable of rehabilitation. We also have a duty to keep these types of individuals away from other inmates especially those committed to rehabilitation.

There needs to be a death penalty, but one that results in total societal exclusion, rather than actual death. Unfortunately, I doubt the citizens of Australia would be willing to relinquish their island and a moonbase doesn't seem economically feasible, although the costs of current death penalty litigation may be close.

Posted by: rob | Dec 22, 2006 11:20:33 AM

The sad thing is, this will never happen because deep down inside, all pro-death penalty people want the condemned to suffer as much as constitutionally permitted.

How exactly did you determine what all pro-death penalty people want, Bruce? The Vulcan mind meld?

During the debate over the gas chamber, it was the anti side that put forward lethal injection. This statement from Justice Stevens in Gomez v. USDC is typical of what the anti side was saying at the time:

The unnecessary cruelty of [cyanide gas] convinced Arizona's Attorney General that that State should abandon execution by gas in favor of execution by lethal injection. His conclusion coincides with that of numerous medical, legal, and ethical experts.

The pro side went along with this change because (1) it was okay with us if the method involved little or no pain; (2) adopting the opponents' proposal seemed like a sure way to make the issue go away.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Dec 22, 2006 1:43:37 PM

Some of you people are so ignorant and will believe anything you read.

The criminal is completely unconscious, as if under general anesthesia, and has NO awareness of being paralyzed or of his heart stopping...just like a patient under anesthesia has no awareness.

Educate yourself.

Posted by: Debra | Jan 16, 2007 1:06:30 PM

Thanks! Very Interesting! Great Job! Great Blog!

Posted by: מוסך מיצובישי | Jan 6, 2011 6:29:40 AM

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