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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/1/15

Why states could be botching executions we'll never know about

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Imagine your entire body feels like it's on fire, but you're unable to move, scream, or indicate you're in discomfort in any way. The idea may sound farfetched, but it's the gruesome reality of some states' execution protocols.

Writes Dr. Michael Lewis, an anesthesiologist, in today's Tampa Tribune:

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of Glossip v. Gross from Oklahoma, which challenges the use of the anti-anxiety medication midazolam as a sole anesthetic in lethal injection executions.

Although the safety and efficacy of midazolam is the subject of the U.S. Supreme Court case, it's the next drug in Florida's protocol that concerns me most: the paralytic which prevents the prisoner from showing distress.

Dr. Lewis goes onto say that the use of a paralytic doesn't ease the suffering of the condemned or cause death. Instead, it's administered only to "[mask] pain and suffering"making it nearly impossible to know if the execution is going as planned."

This is important to Glossip v. Gross because it debunks Oklahoma's argument that Florida uses midazolam successfully in executions:

[Oklahoma's] characterization is inaccurate and misleading. America's first execution using midazolam was that of William Happ in Florida in October 2013. It was an unusual event, taking about twice as long as previous executions had. Media witnesses noticed that Happ took longer to lose consciousness and that they saw more body movement than in previous lethal injections.

Happ's execution displayed problems consistent with all the other midazolam botches -- the drug is simply not able to provide a level of unconsciousness, at any dose, that pain can't break through. More importantly, "Florida's impressive track record" of midazolam executions without incident rests entirely upon the use of a drug in lethal injections that is terrifying -- a paralytic agent that prevents us from knowing what the prisoner is experiencing.

So from a lethal injection perspective, midazolam may have potentially caused a number of unrecognized botched executions. As Dr. Lewis puts it:
Under the sheet, on the gurney, through the witness window, Florida's executions may have looked uneventful. Peaceful, even.

But due to Florida's choice to administer paralytics that mask the prisoners' reactions to the drugs they are given, no one will ever know.

 

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Jose Cornejo is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin.
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