US death penalty states seek alternatives to lethal injection

I mentioned the debacle surrounding the execution of Clayton Lockett previously. The problem has been that lethal injection was seen as a humane way to end a condemned criminal’s life. It had the appearance of a medical procedure. Unfortuantely a combination of problems with drug choices and doses and more importantly the limited competence of the execution staff at gaining and maintaining intravenous access have led to a number of botched executions where death was not the at least outwardly peaceful passing intended. Mr. Lockett’s has simply been the most recent and most gruesome. Missouri had planned to execute Russell Bucklew by lethal injection but an indefinite stay of execution has now been granted.

The problem with lethal injection as I have highlighted before is that if one wishes to perform a medical procedure one really needs doctors and / or nurses to do it. To ensure lethal injection worked as intended would require highly skilled and practiced personal, giving varying doses in response to victim’s reaction. That requires people forbidden by their codes of ethics from performing executions. Even that would not provide a absolute guarantee of a “seemly” execution.

In light of this disaster and the ensuing legal challenges citing the American Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments various death penalty states have been looking for alternative mechanisms of execution. Attempts are in progress to return to firing squad and the electric chair. The problem with these methods is that they are not entirely reliable in terms of ensuring a rapid non gory death with both electrocution and shooting have at times had their own botched episodes. Again as mentioned before short of applying massive physical force directly to the victim’s brain it is difficult to think of a guaranteed mechanism of providing instant death. It is interesting that in the discussion about firing squads no one has made the obvious suggestion of firing multiple bullets at the victim’s head from close or point blank range. That of course would produce amounts of gore which seems unplatable.

A large part of the driver for the introduction of lethal injection as a form of execution in the US was to make the process of judicial execution less visually unpleasant and, hence, more palatable: what I have previously called more “seemly.” This strategy has helped ensure the ongoing popularity of the death penalty in the US. Now with the major question marks over lethal injection it may be that support for judicial execution which has already been slowly falling, may fall further.

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