Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lethal injection may cause pain during executions, UM researchers report in study

By Bob Lamendola
April 24, 2007

The three-drug combination used for lethal injections in Florida and 36 other states does not reliably execute inmates and may leave them feeling pain as they die, University of Miami medical school researchers found in a study released Monday.

"Lethal injection protocols are not adequate to ensure a predictable, painless death," the researchers wrote in the journal Public Library of Science, Medicine.In fact, inmates put to death by lethal injection may get less anesthetic -- pound for pound -- to knock them unconscious and deaden pain than do animals euthanized in lab experiments, the study concludes.

"We absolutely pay more attention to how we kill animals than humans," said co-author Teresa Zimmers, an assistant research professor of surgery.

The study comes as Florida re-examines its lethal injection methods after the botched execution of convicted murderer Angel Diaz in December. Diaz lived for 34 minutes and needed two doses of fatal drugs, because the technicians who inserted the intravenous tube missed his vein.

A special commission told Gov. Charlie Crist last month that the state should rethink the drugs, dosages and training it uses. Crist's staff did not respond to requests for comment about the new study.

Florida injects inmates with sodium pentathol to anesthetize them, followed by the muscle paralyzer pancuronium bromide to stop breathing, then potassium chloride to stop the heart. The dosage of each drug is supposed to be large enough to kill inmates alone.

But the study of 49 executions in North Carolina and California found that a few inmates lived 18 minutes or more and needed extra drugs. Also, the dose of anesthetic per pound was sometimes only half the amount given to kill dogs, pigs and other animals in medical experiments.

Florida and the other states employ the same drugs used in the first lethal injection in 1977.

Oklahoma chose the drugs based on the opinion of the state's medical examiner, who later changed his mind.

Death penalty opponents said the new study backs their calls to scrap lethal injections, saying the results show a possibility for cruel and unusual punishment."No one knows what these drugs do. There's been virtually no scientific review and medical evidence on the lethal injection process," said Mark Elliot, president of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

But death penalty advocates contend the results spring from flawed data.

The drugs clearly kill and render inmates unconscious, even if the process takes a few minutes longer than expected, said Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento.

"I don't think about the public worries too much about Jeffrey Dahmer … feeling a little sting," said Rushford, who favors abandoning lethal injections and switching to carbon monoxide gas.

Bob LaMendola can be reached at blamendola@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4526 or 561-243-6600, ext. 4526.

No comments: