A professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School told the Washington Post that “Given these recurring problems with lethal injections, if I had to be executed, I would choose a firing squad.” That article and one in the ABA Journal details the problems with supply of lethal injection drugs throughout the nation.
32 states have the death penalty still, and they all use lethal injection. The problem for them is that pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell the drugs to states out of opposition to the death penalty, because of legal challenges and out of fear of becoming pariahs to the medical community. States have had to scramble to come up with ways to carry out executions. And, to fill the gaps, some experimentation has been done. States have tried using midazolam, with varying results. The ABA Journal reports:
Due to the drug shortage, some states have turned to a widely available sedative, midazolam. The use of midazolam has been controversial, however. Last October, Florida used it as part of its drug cocktail to put convicted murderer and rapist William Happ to death. The Associated Press reported that Happ “remained conscious longer and made more body movements after losing consciousness than other people executed recently by lethal injection under the old formula.” In January, midazolam was used in Ohio on convicted rapist and murderer Dennis McGuire. According to the Post, McGuire gasped for air for 10 minutes and took nearly 30 minutes to die. It was the longest execution since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1999.
Death penalty states would like to continue executing people with experimental drugs, but they’d obviously like to come under less scrutiny. In Georgia, for instance, the drugs used to execute by lethal injection have been deemed a State secret.
Attorneys for a man in Missiouri have requested permission to video record the execution so that others can use the video as evidence to challenge future executions. It is unclear whether it will be allowed, though videotaping has been allowed in Georgia executions.
It seems that there are two problems. Corrections officials (except in perhaps Texas) do not get a great deal of practice performing executions. And medications are not manufactured to kill people. Lab experiments aren’t done on how best to kill people with drugs that weren’t designed with that in mind. So, the execution chamber becomes the lab.
Unfortunately, the lesson States are learning is not to put the brakes on executions until a humane protocol can be found (if that’s, indeed, possible). Rather, they are learning the lesson to keep things a bit more secret in the future by closing the curtains sooner and keeping the exact formula of the cocktail a state secret.