Friday, October 26, 2007

I still say we should tickle them.

More out-of-this-worldliness from Alabama's Birmingham News:

State's new execution procedure detailed

Under a new procedure intended to ensure that Alabama's condemned inmates are unconscious when executed, a prison guard will call the inmate by name, brush his eyelashes with a finger and pinch his arm, a Department of Corrections spokesman said Thursday.

Gov. Bob Riley announced Monday that a new execution procedure had been adopted, but disclosed no details. Thursday, Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett discussed the new procedure, which will come after a drug causing unconsciousness is administered, but before the administration of drugs meant to kill the inmate.

"It's simply a consciousness check after the first drug has been administered," Corbett said.

The addition to the state's execution protocol was developed after the U.S.
Supreme Court agreed to hear a Kentucky case challenging the constitutionality of that state's lethal injection procedure. Alabama keeps most details of its execution procedure secret, but lawyers representing Death Row inmates have said that Alabama's procedure was identical to Kentucky's before the change was made.

According to court filings in death penalty cases, Alabama, Kentucky and most other states use a combination of three drugs to execute prisoners. Lawyers representing convicted killer Thomas Arthur said in court documents that Alabama uses Thiopental, Pavulon and potassium chloride.

Arthur was issued a 45-day stay last month pending implementation of the new procedure. A new date for his execution has not been set.

Thiopental is a barbiturate that experts say causes unconsciousness. Pavulon causes paralysis and halts breathing, and potassium chloride stops the heart.

Corbett said that, after the first drug is administered, a member of the security detail assigned to the condemned prisoner will follow the new procedure to assure he is unconscious. Then the execution will continue with the administration of the final two drugs.

Death penalty opponents said the procedure will do little to ensure the inmate doesn't suffer a horrible death.

"These additional steps are by no means sufficient to ensure that the inmate will be unconscious," said Elisabeth Semel, director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. The clinic represents Death Row inmates.

The risks involved:

Death penalty protocols typically are developed and used in secrecy, meaning qualified medical personnel don't have input, and the result is a system that can suffer catastrophic failure, she said.

Problems inherent to lethal injection have been well-documented in lawsuits arguing that it violates the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, Semel said. Those lawsuits, including suits filed on behalf of Alabama Death Row inmates, argue that Thiopental could lose effectiveness before death, leaving the inmate conscious but paralyzed and in extreme pain.

Those suits also argue that, because qualified medical personnel routinely refuse to participate in executions, it's more likely that the wrong dosage of one of the drugs will be administered, or that an IV will be improperly inserted, leading to a painful death.

1 comment:

Dr. Thinus Coetzee said...

OK, here's the crux. The guard brushes the condemned person's eyelashes, no reaction; he pinches him, no reaction; he calls his name, no reaction. He then looks at the one-way mirror and signals the OK. At that moment, the short-acting barbiturate, Thiopental, has dissipated sufficiently and the inmate starts coming round. Pavulon is already on the way and paralysis is setting in. He can't call out now and starts suffocating before the Potassium Chloride kills him. For the changes to this protocol to be effective, the guard would have to brush eyelashes, pinch and call the whole time, until the inmate is dead. Is this new procedure now written in this way? I doubt it. As Bob Riley doesn't want to be transparent and open the protocol up to scrutiny, one would never know whether it is "broken" on not. Until then, the death penalty in Alabama would stay flawed, under suspicion and open to comment. But, as they say: "Politics are politics".

Dr. Thinus Coetzee