By Mira Soto-Nelson
The death penalty has been a controversial issue in the United States and the world for a long time, however, lethal injection has sparked a debate in the U.S. recently in response to the increased number of botched executions using this method in recent years. Ever since Dr. Jay Chapman invented the formula in 1977, lethal injection has been considered the most humane form of execution in the United States and the world. Lethal injection has been thought to be the more humane option for executions in the U.S, however the number of botched executions using lethal injection has risen too high to ignore. One of the many controversial topics in this debate is that the anesthesia does not fully render the prisoner unconscious, as well as the paralytic not allowing witnesses to observe whether or not the prisoner was in pain. Many states are now looking to suspend the method of lethal injection until the decision is made to either stop using lethal injection altogether and instead use electrocution or a firing squad, or perfect the lethal injection formula in order to prevent future botched executions. Many people strongly believe that lethal injection should be abolished. Opponents of lethal injection think that the United States needs to suspend the usage of lethal injection until it’s been further investigated. Though people who believe the death penalty should be abolished altogether are consequently against lethal injections, many supporters of the death penalty are against lethal injection as well.
Some of the arguments against lethal injection are based in logos appeals. These perspectives argue that lethal injection isn’t working and use statistics to explain why it should either be abolished, or fixed to perfect the formula. The evidence showing that it is not a good idea to continue using lethal injection is stacked up as there have been horribly botched executions in which the prisoner was in excruciating pain and took a long time to die. The evidence is mainly data and graphs showing the states that use lethal injection. There are statistics as to why the formula isn’t working as well as it could, and theories on how to change the “chemical cocktail” with different chemical compounds that are more effective. There are many accounts of botched executions where prisoners writhed in pain, screamed, and said that their body felt like it was on fire. This is where the issue of morality comes into the debate.
Humans for the most part do not want to watch another human die a slow, painful death, even if that person is a murderer or rapist. Fixing the formula would enable the prisoner to die quicker, and perhaps feel less pain. This is the basis of the debate around whether or not murderers who have inflicted pain on others deserve to die a painful death. The arguments surrounding this part of the debate are mainly pathos based. Many people feel that a person guilty of a heinous crime deserves to suffer in death. Some people who argue against this viewpoint are people who have witnessed botched executions, and witnessed the statements of prisoners during the botched executions which is a very emotional experience.
There have been many botched executions using lethal injection, however some, especially more recent ones, are more widely known. Take the case of Joseph Wood, a convicted double murderer who was executed in 2014. It took him 117 minutes, nearly 2 hours to die, during which time he gasped about 600 times. It took the executioner a while to find a vein to use, and dismissed his gasps as “snores.” The formula used to kill Joseph Wood was a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone. It should have taken him about 10 minutes to die. Theories on why this happened is that the formula was new, and had not been tested before. Arizona had bought the drugs from an unknown pharmaceutical company, these drugs had never been tested before in combination with each other.
Stephen McCoy, a convicted kidnapper, rapist, and murderer was executed in Oklahoma in 2014 by lethal injection. He had such a violent physical reaction the the drugs; arching his back, gasping, choking, that one of the witnesses fainted. Houston attorney Karen Zellars, who represented McCoy and was a witness to the execution, thought the fainting of the witness would be a shock to the rest of the country. The Texas Attorney General said McCoy “seemed to have a somewhat stronger reaction,” also saying, “the drugs might have been administered in a heavier dose or more rapidly.” One of the most twisted things about the accounts of this execution is that the fainting of the witness was met with more concern that the botched aspects of the actual execution. It seems to be that in a lot of executions, the witness’ reactions and thoughts on the execution is what is important, not what is happening to the prisoner.
The trend of witness accounts being more influential than the prisoner’s actions is a reflection of a bias in the system, that prisoners are dehumanized and their pain is not worth noting, especially because doing so would make the general public feel uncomfortable and guilty. Another example of this is the execution of Charles Warner on January 15th 2015 in Oklahoma. Although Warner stated that “my body is on fire. No one should go through this. I’m not afraid to die. We’s all going to die,” and, ”Before I give my final statement, I’ll tell you they poked me five times. It hurt. It feels like acid,” clearly showing that he felt pain. Despite this, witnesses apparently could not confirm that he felt pain, given that he was given a paralytic sedative, the controversial drug midazolam. The execution took 18 minutes and was considered successful. Executions using lethal injection should take about 5-10 minutes, but because of the amount of recent botched executions, some taking 45 minutes, others about 2 hours, the definition of what is considered a successful execution has been stretched. Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen stated, “Because Oklahoma injected Mr. Warner with a paralytic tonight, acting as a chemical veil, we will never know whether he experienced the intense pain of suffocation and burning that would result from injecting a conscious person with rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride.” Clearly, one of the biggest factors in determining whether an execution is successful is peace of mind of the witnesses.
Recent mishaps with lethal injections have resulted in many more people and pharmaceutical companies opposing the usage of lethal injection in executions.
Pharmaceutical companies that used to sell the drugs that are used in lethal injections have stopped, not wanting their company to be associated with death when they also sell drugs that help people. This has caused a decline in executions using lethal injection and many executions have been put on hold in order for investigations of the “chemical cocktails” to take place to prevent any future botched executions. States either have to buy drugs from companies that aren’t compliant with FDA regulations, or from parts of the world that support the death penalty and lethal injection. This has been the cause of the recent number of botched executions which should have been avoided. A solution to this problem is to have pharmaceutical companies make drugs specifically for lethal injection.
Some people have difficulty with the notion that the drugs may not be the most humane form of execution available. The anesthesia (the drug most commonly used: sodium thiopental) does not always work to render the prisoner unconscious, meaning that they are still awake and able to understand what is happening, and feel pain.
The paralytic drug (the drug most commonly used, pancuronium bromide) renders witnesses unable to tell if the prisoner was in pain during the procedure. The entire purpose of lethal injection is to be as humane as possible, quick and painless. Given the recent amount of botched executions, the method is not serving its purpose. For this reason, many people, both supporters and opposers of the death penalty, object to the usage of lethal injection. Those who object to lethal injection have many ideas as to how future executions should be carried out. Some, like the inventor of lethal injection, Dr. Jay Chapman, think that the drug is no longer working as the original formula has been changed; and that we should go back to using the guillotine.
Who and Why
Death Penalty Info is a website that is focused on getting information on the death penalty and everything that has to do with it out there. It has a lot of information on lethal injection and other methods of execution used in the United States of America. This website was created because a lot of people are unaware on the facts of the death penalty, from which crimes are considered capital crimes in what states, to how often executions are carried out. The information on lethal injection includes what it’s composed of in each state, the formula, how it’s used, and how it can go wrong. This website neither supports nor opposes the death penalty or lethal injection, it simply puts the information on the internet for the public to view and learn from.
Dr. Jay Chapman is the inventor of lethal injection, and now opposes its usage. He believes that his original formula can be improved. His opinion is that until that is done it should not be used as 7% of executions using lethal injection have been botched. He supports the evolution of lethal injection, altering the formula in order to prevent future botched executions. However, he also believes that it would be a lot easier to resort to other forms of execution, which would save time and money.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is an organization that works to abolish the death penalty, lethal injection included. They believe that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment and violate the 8th and 14th Amendments. Lethal injection is included in their argument for abolishing the death penalty, as the past botched executions using lethal injection prove their argument that the death penalty is cruel and unusual. The recent amount of botched executions using lethal injection has been high, and has been grotesque to watch as the prisoners were in a lot of pain.
Scientific American believes that lethal injection is not working for its intended purpose. They have conducted a study testing how well the lethal injection formula works, and have found that there is no evidence to support the continued usage of this formula as it does not work as well as once thought. Although some have accused Scientific American of having a political agenda, the study was conducted in the name of science, and its outcome has no reflection on their political views. However, they believe that in order to continue using lethal injection as a form of execution, the formula must be tested and changed as their results clearly show that the current formula of lethal injection is not working.
The United States is now considering to look for different methods of execution, as the most humane form of execution appears to be inhumane. States are still using illegally obtained drugs in their lethal injection formulas, making it apparent that in the near future, lethal injection will either be perfected or abolished. The recent number of botched executions using lethal injections prompted President Obama to review the death penalty and its methods of execution. Although Obama supports the death penalty (after years of being against it), he is now considering refining the capital crimes in order to have a more just system of execution, and the punishments would go to those who deserve it.
All the organizations that oppose the death penalty oppose lethal injection. Some organizations that support the death penalty are unsure of lethal injection, as some believe that the death of a prisoner convicted of (a) capital crime(s) deserves to suffer in death. However, others believe that the death should be as humane as possible, in order to be guilt free of murder themselves.