Monday, May 14, 2007

Execution Rules Still Inhumane

Published May 14, 2007

Florida's death chamber is about to reopen. The Department of Corrections has issued a new set of protocols for lethal injection that it believes will prevent any more botched executions. That's wishful thinking.

Despite the new procedures, the problems that arose during the Angel Diaz execution in December, which led to a five-month moratorium, could arise again. Diaz took more than twice the normal amount of time to die and appeared to some witnesses to suffer during the process. The medical examiner said of Diaz's ordeal that "none of the materials injected went to the right place." It turned out that no medically trained professional was enlisted to administer the drugs.

The department's new procedures still do not require that a doctor oversee the execution process. There would be added training for those assigned to the task, and more exacting protocols for how things should proceed, but the execution team will not have to have the kind of medical qualifications that such a highly technical process demands.

Even the report by a commission appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to review Florida's lethal injection procedure said that "qualified medical personnel" are needed to perform "a humane and lawful execution." And the doctors on the commission appended a statement that the trend in the country is to require "sophisticated medical techniques and personnel to administer the lethal injection."

But because it is difficult to find doctors willing to violate their ethical code to participate, medical expertise has been eliminated from consideration. The other key factor missing from the department's new 10-page procedure manual is any change in the chemical cocktail. Diaz may very well have experienced terrible pain during his slow death. But since one of the three drugs used in his execution is a paralyzing agent, he had no way to communicate his suffering.

The commission urged the department to explore other "more recently developed" chemicals for use in executions and to reconsider the use of any paralytic drug in order to make executions "less problematic." But the department decided to stick with the same badly flawed approach that has the potential to cause the inmate great pain.

Expanding the size of the execution room, installing cameras and requiring additional training are all worthwhile improvements. But the changes do not go far enough, and they do not make carrying out the death penalty any more humane nor defensible.

No comments: