NY Times – Three-Drug Protocol Persists for Lethal Injections, Despite Ease of Using One


Robert Patton, the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, in Tulsa this week. Credit John Clanton/Tulsa World, via Associated Press

Terminally ill people who want to die can take drugs to end their lives peacefully. Ailing pets are put down humanely every day. Clearly, the technology exists to bring about a quick and painless death.

Why, then, do executions by lethal injection sometimes become troubling spectacles? The death in Oklahoma on Tuesday of Clayton D. Lockett, amid struggling and apparent pain, was not the country’s first bungled execution.

A number of factors have conspired to produce painful scenes in the death chamber, experts say: an ill-conceived drug formulation clung to by many states; the lack of medical expertise among people planning and carrying out executions; and, more recently, drug shortages that have pushed prison officials to improvise lethal cocktails and buy drugs from loosely regulated compounding pharmacies.

According to prison officials in Oklahoma, an intravenous line inserted into Mr. Lockett’s groin did not work properly and interfered with the flow of drugs. But doctors say the drugs themselves, three used in a certain sequence, are a deeper part of the problem, because two of them cause suffering if they are administered improperly. And those two drugs are not necessary.

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