Dr. David A. Lubarsky, whose research suggests that death-row inmates are likely to suffer during lethal injections, heads the University of Miami medical school’s anesthesiology department. The Miami Herald reports that he is a conservative Republican with an MBA from Duke University’s Business School. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided this week to consider the lethal injection issue, the professor was thrust into the center of a heated national debate. Lubarsky’s research, published April 16 in the British medical journal The Lancet, was cited in the appeal of Clarence Hill, whose execution, scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed while the case is pending at the hihgh court. Hill was convicted in 1982 of killing a Pensacola police officer.
The high court is considering whether Hill is entitled to a hearing on a civil rights claim that Florida’s method of lethal injection is likely to cause pain and violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. Lubarsky is described as brilliant and accomplished but unlikely to get involved in politics. “‘I don’t have a stake in this,” Lubarsky said. “I understand both sides of the issue. This was not intended to be an opinion piece where whatever we found would be manipulated to suit either side.” Lubarsky and three colleagues obtained postmortem toxicology reports on 49 executed inmates and measured the level of a particular anesthetic, thiopental, in the inmates’ bloodstream. The research suggested that perhaps 43 of the 49 inmates did not have enough thiopental in their bloodstream to ensure unconsciousness. ”Methods of lethal injection anesthesia are flawed, and some inmates might experience awareness and suffering during execution,” the article said.