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November 23, 2007

Are botched executions inevitable?

Today's Washington Post has this extended article on execution protocols entitled, "Lethal Injection to Get Supreme Test; Doubts of Humaneness Bring Case to High Court."  Though the headline suggests that the article is about the Baze case before SCOTUS, the body of the article is mostly focused on botched executions in Ohio and Florida.  Consequently, this article has me thinking about whether botched executions are inevitable given human imperfection and also whether the Justices in Baze will suggest that states have an obligation to minimize the risk of botching an execution.

Though I am not an expert on botched executions, I suspect that society has often moved toward execution techniques that increase the risk of errors.  The electric chair seems even more likely to mess up than a firing squad, and lethal injection seems to require even more expertise than the electric chair.  Indeed, if reducing the risk of botched executions was our chief goal, perhaps we ought to start talking about bringing back the guillotine.  (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.)

November 23, 2007 at 11:40 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Nov 23, 2007 6:02:54 PM


This may sound a little immature, but it would be cool to bring back the guillotine

Posted by: EJ | Nov 23, 2007 4:35:08 PM

There is no need to go 2 or 3 steps back. One will do. The gas chamber was the best method. Instead of getting rid of it, all they needed to do was change the gas. There are many better alternatives to cyanide.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Nov 23, 2007 5:15:32 PM

Oh yes, Mr. Scheidegger,

why not use the hand ax? So one precision blow, and of course the world will be a better one!?

Best wishes.

Joachim Kuebler

Posted by: Joachim Kuebler | Nov 23, 2007 5:55:31 PM

I am a mere death penalty discussion board admin, but my history does go back to include the fact that the hand axe used in the execution of Mary Queen of Scots missed her neck and cut into the back of her head. It is thought the sound uttered were the words " Sweet Jesus " before the second blow was fatal .
This was execution at Fotheringhay Castle on 8 February 1587.

Posted by: Paul Ames | Nov 23, 2007 6:15:23 PM

Indeed Mr. Scheidegger, the gas chamber is the perfect way to do it.

In fact, we can do it in a manner that the executed won't even know it. All one has to do is take them from solitary down to the showers. They can even throw the switch themselves. However, instead of water, we can use lethal gas. It will be perfectly peaceful and they'll never know the difference.

Stepping back from the sarcasm, what about the similarities between the gas chamber and hooding that the court deemed torturous?

Posted by: Sawyer | Nov 23, 2007 6:43:39 PM

The aim behind all of these technologies has been to reduce suffering and make executions more palatable. Hanging was quick and painless and wasn't overly gruesome, when compared with earlier methods. Electrocution was medically developed and was to be quick and painless, despite appearances. It also had the added benefit of bringing the execution indoors (and took away from the carnival atmosphere some prison authorities had complained of). Lethal injection aimed to eliminate suffering,

There's an interesting quote of then-governor Ronald Reagan in Time, where he says that the methods were a problem and one reason there were fewer executions. He says we should use lethal injection like we do on horses, since he's seen his own horses put down and it seemed painless. And, of course, the first two drugs, not including the painful poison salt, were named by a doctor in OK. But as you say, it is botched, apparently due to its complexity, the use of a painful compound to speed up the process, and the non-medical personnel performing an anesthesia procedure.

Also, hooding is still on the books and/or prison regs in some states - even lethal injection states. The practice violates international treaties against torture and inhuman practices.

Posted by: Matt Byrne | Nov 24, 2007 12:42:16 PM

A shot to the back of the head would seem to do the trick. Unshakeable belief in one's cause and a steady hand doubtless required by the shooter. Several of the more conservative members of this blog appear to qualify.

Posted by: | Nov 24, 2007 2:12:07 PM

The only way to assure that executions go right is to do it in the sunshine. Executioners should be elected by the people. Executions should be televised.

The people have been cut out of the execution process by unelected an unaccountable bureaucrats.

Posted by: S.cotus | Nov 26, 2007 11:19:51 AM

I am a medical team member and have been deposed for this very thing. The majority of "botched" injections have been due to inexperienced I.V. placement and unsuitable/unsupportive peripheral venous support. Central intravenous placement is almost as painless as a peripheral I.V. and much more accurate! I don't care what route we go, no death is absolutly "painless" unless natural and in your sleep!

Posted by: Paul | Sep 24, 2008 5:51:46 PM

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