Explain "botched executions"
August 5, 2014 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Recently there have been several news stories about "botched executions" in US states with the death penalty, i.e. cases where death took longer than expected and/or was attended with substantial physical suffering. Why aren't these easily preventable given modern medical science?

Science these days has a lot of ways to put people to death quickly and painlessly, doesn't it? There's barbiturates, deliberate morphine overdose, whatever drugs Dignitas uses... And can't whatever method is chosen be preceded by full sedation to prevent any possibility of suffering? Are there legal or practical problems with such methods that prevent states from using them?
posted by zeri to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

posted by emilyw at 3:37 PM on August 5, 2014

Read this.
posted by John Cohen at 3:39 PM on August 5, 2014

We don't use morphine or heroin because those things kill pain and induce pleasure. Other countries and their pharmaceutical companies won't sell us drugs for killing because they think killing people is wrong. Hmmm, bit of a clue there.
posted by theora55 at 3:40 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well the first problem is that medical professionals often don't participate in American executions (really, that's the article you want to read first). There are all sorts of good ethical reasons why medical professionals shouldn't be getting involved in the death penalty, going back to the Hippocratic Oath.

So what you wind up with are protocols devised by corrections officials and lawyers, vetted through courts, and often administered by EMTs with no higher medical supervision. In many cases, drugs that would do the job with fewer complications are unavailable, because the foreign countries who make them won't sell them to us for fear they'll be used in executions. Basically, it's a system that wasn't particularly designed to provide a quick and painless death, so conveniently enough, it's been failing lately.
posted by zachlipton at 3:43 PM on August 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

Not just the drugs:

"A physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution."

And a Reuters piece on the participation (or non-participation) of medical professionals in executions.
posted by holgate at 3:44 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

We had a pretty good discussion about the various issues here when Ohio botched an execution at the beginning of the year.
posted by Mitheral at 5:00 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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