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December 9, 2022

Notable review of (increasing?) number of botched lethal injection executions

The Death Penalty Information Center has this notable new posting to mark a notable anniversary under this heading: "As Lethal Injection Turns Forty, States Botch a Record Number of Executions."  Here is how the lengthy posting gets started (with links from the original):

On December 7, 1982, Texas strapped Charles Brooks to a gurney, inserted an intravenous line into his arm, and injected a lethal dose of sodium thiopental into his veins, launching the lethal-injection era of American executions.  In the precisely forty years since, U.S. states and the federal government have put 1377 prisoners to death by some version of the method.  Touted as swift and painless and a more humane way to die — just as execution proponents had said nearly a century before about the electric chair — the method has proven to be anything but.

Experts say lethal injection is the most botched of the execution methods, estimated to go wrong more frequently than any other method.  And autopsies of more than 200 prisoners put to death by lethal injection found that, regardless of the outward appearance of a tranquil death, 84% of those executed showed evidence of pulmonary edema — a fluid build-up in the lungs that creates a feeling of suffocation or drowning that experts have likened to waterboarding.

Moreover, American pharmaceutical companies universally oppose what they consider the misuse of their medicines to take the lives of prisoners, and the medical community universally deems it unethical for medical personnel to participate in executions.  That means states are relying on what drugs they can lay their hands on — increasingly obtained illegally or by subturfege — from often unreliable sources and administered by inadequately trained prison personnel ill equipped to handle the job and performing it behind an expanding veil of secrecy provisions.

As lethal injection turns forty, states are botching executions in record numbers — seven alone in 2022 in 19 execution attempts, an astonishing 37%.  In articles in Slate and The Conversation on November 21 and November 29, 2022, Austin Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College and author the 2014 book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty, says that from Brooks’ execution through 2009, “more than 7 percent of all lethal injections were botched … [and] things have only gotten worse.”

The parenthetical in the title of this post is prompted by the fact that I do not think our society was scrutinizing lethal injections executions nearly as much in the 1980s and 1990s as we have in more recent decades. Though it is quite possible that more executions are being "botched" in recent years, I think it is also quite possible that we are now just much more likely to take notice of lethal injection execution difficulties.

December 9, 2022 at 12:13 PM | Permalink


I am surprised that Dr. Fauci hasn't stepped in and declared lethal injection safe--after all, it's an injection, right, and we all know what KCl, curare and sodium thiopental (or similar agent) do. Just like the mRNA--we assume an intermuscular injection doesn't get mRNA directly into a vein/artery.

In theory, the three-drug protocol works. The single-drug protocol works. As does the mRNA vaxx.

No, I am not an anti-vaxxer, lol/

Posted by: federalist | Dec 9, 2022 12:37:04 PM

These events were there for everyone to see right from the beginning, and are fully spelled out in an amicus brief in Cheney v. Heckler, arguing that medical authorities believed medical participation in executions violated the Hippocratic oath, that lethal injections would be difficult to administer, and frequently botched. No secrets here; just inattention.

Posted by: James Doyle | Dec 9, 2022 4:06:31 PM

People are just now paying attention to "botched" executions. It's one small step closer to the public disapproving of capital punishment and perhaps national abolition of capital punishment.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 10, 2022 1:56:43 AM

Carrying out death sentences has always been an ugly, gruesome process, no matter what method is used. If you have not already, read John Grisham's book, "The Chamber". The general public has just had its collective head buried in the sand for decades about the ugly details. Now, the press and others are bringing those details to light and focusing the public's attention.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Dec 11, 2022 8:52:22 AM

Litigation over how the state executes murderers is absurd. I wouldn't mind giving the condemned a choice of methods. But the deed needs to be done.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Dec 11, 2022 10:48:23 AM

Anesthesia. Mask on, crank the gas, he goes to sleep, keep the gas going until “sleep” turns into “dirt nap.”

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 11, 2022 8:09:33 PM

Agree or disagree with their opinions, I used to respect the Supreme Court and its processes. How naive I have been. That the conservatives on the Court have been clandestinely lobbied by certain fundamentalist church folks at private dinners and forums brings the court into disrepute; it disgusts me. That Alito or his wife leaked the outcome of Dobbs and the Hobby Lobby case besmirches the court further. And that Alito was raging against "the leaker" betrays his hypocrisy and mendacity. That Ginny Thomas is a fervid election denier and fanatical anti-abortionist, who lobbies her husband (and if you believe she doesn't, I have a bridge to sell you) has brought the court to a stinking new low. What a shame.

Posted by: anon1 | Dec 13, 2022 11:40:47 AM

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