Death by lethal injection faces a significant challenge in federal court today in Oklahoma City, with doctors contending that the state’s method creates an unnecessary risk that a condemned inmate will suffer excruciating pain, in violation of the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Nearly 30 years ago, Oklahoma became the first state to develop a procedure for lethal injection – leading three dozen other states to develop similar methods, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Like challenges to lethal injection in several other states, the one in Oklahoma contends that although lethal injection is supposed to be more humane than earlier execution methods, it often masks a painful death. In sworn statements in the case, anesthesiologists Dr. Mark Heath and Dr. Thomas K. Henthorn say Oklahoma’s method shows state corrections officials have a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the role of the three drugs they use in lethal injections. All of the suits allege that there is a significant possibility that an inmate does not receive enough of the first drug – a short-acting barbiturate – to be sufficiently sedated to not experience pain caused by the second two drugs, a paralytic and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest.