When death penalty opponents bring arguments before the Supreme Court challenging Kentucky’s method of lethal injection, they will cite evidence that techniques to put down the condemned are not so painless and humane as state corrections officials say, says the Washington Post. Death penalty opponents will argue that using a procedure that creates “a known risk of pain and suffering,” when other alternatives are available, violates the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause.
Since the high court decided to hear the case, a de facto moratorium on executions has occurred. On Nov. 15, the justices stayed the execution of Mark Dean Schwab, who was scheduled to be executed in Florida for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of an 11-year-old boy. Florida revised its lethal injection procedures after a botched execution last December. The change in procedures, which state officials say was made to lessen the chance of pain, had led state courts to allow the Schwab execution to move forward. Some states have allowed executioners, some with little medical training, to surgically open the arm of a prisoner when they cannot find a vein, fish out an exposed vein with string and insert a needle. Lisa McCalmont, a consultant to the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley law school who recently committed suicide, said the idea that an inmate gently dies during a lethal injection procedure may be a false one: “I don’t think everybody knows that two of the drugs are capable of causing excruciating pain.” State officials defend their methods of lethal injection, asserting that when carried out properly, including proper anesthesia, no pain results. Mark Dershwitz, an anesthesiology professor at the University of Massachusetts who has reviewed protocols and testified on behalf of states, said that even he has trouble inserting needles in some patients.