[JURIST] Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] Monday called the use of lethal injections by US authorities "incompetent, negligent, and irresponsible" in a report [text] urging the federal government and the 37 out of 38 death penalty states that use that method of execution to suspend injections pending an assessment of alternatives that do not put prisoners at needless risk of excruciating pain. The report describes the current procedure, introduced three decades ago with what HRW says was little or no scientific research:
As the prisoner lies strapped to a gurney, a series of three drugs is injected into his vein by executioners hidden behind a wall. A massive dose of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic, is injected first, followed by pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes voluntary muscles, but leaves the prisoner fully conscious and able to experience pain. A third drug, potassium chloride, quickly causes cardiac arrest, but the drug is so painful that veterinarian guidelines prohibit its use unless a veterinarian first ensures that the pet to be put down is deeply unconscious. No such precaution is taken for prisoners being executed.The report cites recent decisions [JURIST report] by courts in North Carolina and California to depart from traditional lethal injection methods out of concern for possible pain. The US Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on April 26 in Hill v. McDonough [Duke Law backgrounder; merit briefs], a case which will determine the procedures a prisoner must follow if he wishes to challenge lethal injections.
Until recently, the US was the only country to use lethal injections to carry out executions, but it has lately been joined by China (1997) and Guatemala (1998). Lethal injection laws are also on the books in the Philippines and Thailand. Read the HRW press release.