Lethal injection is the most common method of execution in the United States today. Although the concept was first proposed in the nineteenth century, and was used in Nazi Germany, it did not gain traction in the United States until 1977. It was accepted by many states because it was viewed as more humane than the electric chair.
The inmate is first strapped onto a gurney, where a cannula is placed into each of his arms, one as a primary and one as a failsafe. IVs are run from the cannulae to a separate room where prison officials administer the solutions. The most common procedure for injection includes three solutions administered separately. The first is either sodium thiopental or pentobarbital. These drugs not only render the inmate unconscious, but can also depress respiratory function, causing the inmate to stop breathing. Next, the patient is injected with pancuronium bromide, which induces paralysis and also relaxes respiratory muscles. Lastly, concentrated potassium chloride is added; this stops the inmate’s heart.
The current lethal injection methods have been the subject of a heated debate. Those against the methods cite the fact that sodium thiopental is very short-acting, meaning that, conceivably, the inmates could begin to feel pain. This pain cannot be expressed, however, as the pancuronium bromide causes paralysis. It has also been proposed that the pancuronium bromide dilutes the sodium thiopental. Opponents of the current methods also state that pancuronium bromide may be completely unnecessary and cruel. This is because there is no need for paralysis because the inmate is already strapped to the gurney, and all this does is makes it so the inmate dies a slow death of asphyxiation without being able to communicate his pain.
It has also been argued that the anesthesia dosages can be mistaken easily, as medical professionals are not the ones that administer the solutions; the ones that do are simply prison officials. This lack of experience in the field is often cited as one of the main dangers of the current system. The reason that doctors do not participate is because it contradicts the Geneva Promise, which is a physician’s oath to devote themselves to humanitarian goals.
Eleven states have already implemented, or intend to implement a single drug lethal injection. This is done through one large dose of a barbiturate. This performs the required task without having unnecessary solutions that increase the risk of severe pain.
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