By halting the execution of Michael Morales this week, California is at the forefront of a growing debate about whether being put to death by lethal injection is more humane than other methods or masks a painful end, the Los Angeles Times says. The question will intensify as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the issue and California reexamines its procedure after a federal judge said the method had to be modified because of concerns after reviewing evidence of recent executions. More than 840 people across the nation have been executed by lethal injection in the last 30 years, but the issue of whether it violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment has only recently come to the fore.
“They are hitting the wall in the futile search for a humane death penalty,” said Stephen Rhode, vice president of Death Penalty Focus, which spearheads opposition to capital punishment in California. Most analysts doubt that the Supreme Court will conclude that lethal injection violates the constitutional ban. Joshua Marquis, an Astoria, Or., prosecutor and vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, likened the court challenges to a “Hail Mary” pass by a football team late in a game. Even advocates of the death penalty think that states may be required to change their procedures. California “is legitimately criticized for not doing enough homework on the protocol,” which calls for a three-drug cocktail of a sedative, a paralytic agent and a heart-stopping chemical, said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, which defends capital punishment.