24 August 2005 :American researchers have called for a halt to lethal injection, the most common method of execution in the United States, because it is not always a humane and painless way to die. Some executed prisoners may have suffered unnecessarily because they had not been sedated properly, they said. The current way inmates are given lethal injections does not even meet veterinary standards for putting down animals, they added.
The research was carried out by Leonidas Koniaris of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and colleagues.
"Failures in protocol design, implementation, monitoring and review might have led to unnecessary suffering of at least some of those executed," Koniaris said in a study published in The Lancet medical journal.
"Therefore, to prevent unnecessary cruelty and suffering, cessation and public review of lethal injections is warranted." Anesthesia is given during a lethal injection to minimize suffering. Without it the prisoner would suffocate and experience horrible pain, according to Koniaris.
But in their analysis of protocols followed during lethal injections in Texas and Virginia, where 45 percent of executions in the United States are conducted, they found there was no monitoring of the anesthesia. Emergency medical technicians who administered the drugs had no training in anesthesia and there were no reviews after the executions. When the researchers examined data from autopsies done following 49 executions in Arizona, Georgia and North and South Carolina, they found concentrations of the drug in the blood in 43 cases were lower than that needed for surgery. Twenty-one prisoners had drug levels that were consistent with awareness.
"We suggest that it is possible that some of these inmates were fully aware during their executions," said Koniaris.
An editorial in the journal said if the inmates were awake it would have been a cruel way to die because they would have been unable to move or breathe while potassium burned through their veins. "Capital punishment is not only an atrocity, but also a stain on the record of the world's most powerful democracy," it said. Since 1976, lethal injection had been used in 788 of the 956 executions in the United States, according to The Lancet.