Ohio’s Execution Raises Issues: Why Are Humane Executions So Hard?


The drawn-out Ohio execution of Dennis McGuire raised a fundamental question in the heated debate of the death penalty, says the Cleveland Plain Dealer: Why is it so hard for governments to put an inmate to death in a humane way? Some cite Ohio’s rush to execute, underscored by its admission that it was experimenting with the combination of drugs used. Others say future executions will face similar problems, as the most potent drugs used in lethal injections are off the market. “People ask, ‘How did this happen?”’ said Fordham University law Prof. Deborah Denno. “Well, it’s not just the drugs; it’s a lot of variables, and the problems have gone on for quite a while. This is a prison inflicting a punishment, not a hospital treating a patient.”

It took 25 minutes to put McGuire, 53, to death Jan. 16 in a procedure that his family and lawyers called torture. On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union urged Gov. John Kasich to stop the state’s use of the death penalty, saying the punishment “has reached a crossroads, and the nation and world are watching.” Doctors have backed away from helping in executions, citing ethical and moral issues. “What’s increasingly clear is that lethal injection, in the way that it is presently constituted, cannot guarantee the absence of cruelty in the carrying out of an execution,” said Dr. Joel Zivot of Emory University School of Medicine. “Can lethal injection be improved? As a physician, I find that a hard question. Physicians aren’t experts in executions. We’re not trained in this. When we go to medical school, there are no courses on executions … Any state that attempts to use these compounds will have trouble. They are not made to execute. They are made to treat.”

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