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There is considerable controversy in the US about the most humane way to execute persons sentenced to death. Some experience in this can be gained from euthanasia practices. The NY Times has weighed in on this April 12, part of which is quoted below, with my response.

The three chemicals used in lethal injections in about 35 states have long attracted attention for what critics say is their needless and dangerous complexity.

The first chemical in the series is sodium thiopental, a short-acting barbiturate. Properly administered, all sides agree, it is sufficient to render an inmate unconscious for many hours, if not to kill him. The second chemical is pancuronium bromide, a relative of curare. If administered by itself, it paralyzes the body but leaves the subject conscious, suffocating but unable to cry out. The third, potassium chloride, stops the heart and causes excruciating pain as it travels through the veins.

Problems arise, lawyers and experts for the inmates say, when poorly trained personnel make mistakes in preparing the chemicals, inserting the catheters and injecting the chemicals into intravenous lines. If the first chemical is ineffective, the other two are torturous.

In veterinary euthanasia and in assisted suicides in Oregon, a single lethal dose of a long-acting barbiturate is typically used. But corrections
officials and their medical experts say using that method in executions would take too long and would subject witnesses to discomfort.

FOOTNOTE by Derek Humphry: For the legal, medically-assisted suicide of a terminally ill, competent, adult Oregon resident who requests hastened death, a liquid containing nine grams of Nembutal or Seconal is offered to the patient. It normally induces almost immediate coma and death in less than an hour.

Only one case of failure out of some 230 has been reported, and it appears that in that case the drug was diluted by another substance which the patient took to reduce the bitter taste. In Oregon it is ONLY oral administration and subject to rules; injections of a lethal substance are illegal.

04/2006 ergo@efn.org

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