A flurry of litigation challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection has placed a spotlight on growing evidence that condemned inmates may not be properly anesthetized and therefore experience excruciating pain during executions, reports the Los Angeles Times. Although it has become the predominant method of execution, lethal injection was initially adopted three decades ago without scientific or medical studies, on the recommendation of an Oklahoma state legislator who wanted a more humane procedure.
Since then, objections have arisen in many of the 37 other states that adapted Oklahoma’s procedures. So far this year, executions have been delayed in California, Florida, Maryland and Missouri – and in three federal cases – because of legal challenges of lethal injections. Cases from Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee are pending, and unsuccessful challenges have been waged in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas. The Supreme Court in its 1976 decision reinstating the death penalty cautioned that officials must avoid “the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” The problem with the three-stage lethal injection drug procedure is that it may mask rather than prevent pain, critics contend.