The lethal injection challenge being argued today at the Supreme Court involves a three-drug protocol developed by Oklahoma’s medical examiner in 1977, says the Washington Post: sodium thiopental, to render the inmate unconscious; pancuronium bromide, to paralyze the muscles; and potassium chloride, to cause cardiac arrest. The protocol is used in 35 of the 36 states with the death penalty. Attorneys for Kentucky inmates say the protocol is a complicated process that must be performed with precision to avoid the risk of agonizing pain. They argue that poorly trained personnel could inadequately administer the drugs and that the paralyzing agent masks what could be a torturous death. “It is a shockingly problematic method of execution,” said Deborah Denno, a Fordham University law professor.
Kentucky and other states with the death penalty argue that the challengers have provided scant evidence of serious problems in the more than 900 executions performed by lethal injection. The method was adopted because it was seen as more humane than electrocution or other procedures the court has approved. Much about the future of lethal injections will be determined by how expansively the Supreme Court decides the case. “This is one case where I don’t want them to be too narrow,” said Kent Scheidegger, a death-penalty proponent at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. He urges the court not to decide the case “in a way that creates a moving target for a permanent new round of litigation.”