Lawsuits challenging lethal injection as cruel and unusual have stalled executions in some states and may prompt others to abandon them. The New York Times quotes medical experts as saying that the current method of lethal injection could easily be changed to make suffering less likely. Even the doctor who devised the technique 30 years ago says that if he had it to do over again, he would recommend a different method. Switching to an injection method with less potential to cause pain could undercut many of the lawsuits. So far, no state has moved to alter its lethal injection protocol.
At the core of the issue is a debate about which matters more, the comfort of prisoners or that of the people who watch them die. An obstacle to change is that alternative methods of lethal injection, though they might be easier on inmates, would almost certainly be harder on witnesses and executioners. With a different approach, death would take longer and might involve jerking movements that the prisoner would not feel but that would be unpleasant for others to watch. “Policy makers have historically considered the needs of witnesses in devising protocols” for execution, said Dr. Mark Dershwitz, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Massachusetts.