When states began reviving the death penalty 30 years ago, hanging, electrocution, the gas chamber, and firing squads were perceived as too brutal for a civilized nation, says the Austin American-Statesman. Lethal injection was embraced as the humane method of administering the ultimate punishment. Deciding exactly which mix of chemicals would most quickly and painlessly put someone to death would seem a question easily answered by science.
Instead, the procedure of death by needle was the creation of an Oklahoma medical examiner and was put into practice by Texas. Now, that chain of events, which the newspaper says is “reminiscent of the stereotypical good ol’ boy prison environment in the classic 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke,” could draw Texas into the cross hairs of a growing national legal battle over whether lethal injections are as painless as once thought.” The U.S. Supreme Court and a federal court in California are reviewing death penalty challenges that rest on the argument that lethal injection, as it is practiced, is constitutionally prohibited cruel and unusual punishment. “All roads lead to Texas on this one because the other states adopted the procedure on how to administer lethal injection based on what Texas came up with,” said Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group opposed to the death penalty that has released a report highlighting the growing legal questions over lethal injection. “It’s hard to believe that this procedure was developed without any real input from medical professionals, but it was.”