Ameliorating Lethal Injection by Using Bispectral Index Monitoring of Inmates to Help Ensure a More Humane Death

As compared to hanging, firing squad, electrocution, or lethal gas, death by lethal injection appears more humane and painless because it mimics medical anesthesia. Drugs are even manufactured to ensure that terminally ill patients can end their lives painlessly and that pets can be put down humanely, of which the general public is aware. For a condemned prisoner, the reality may be very different. Approximately seven percent of executions by lethal injections are “botched,” leading to disturbing spectacles in the death chamber. No other method of execution has a higher error rate recorded in U.S. history.  The reasons are multifold: drug regimens selected without scientific validation, lack of medical expertise among the execution team, and drug shortages causing prison officials to scramble to throw together untested drug combinations purchased from poorly regulated compounding pharmacies.

Lethal injection is, in effect, human experimentation that exploits vulnerable prisoner populations without the usual safeguards of informed consent and approval by scientific review boards. Such haphazard execution designs might be repugnant to the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, data from executions has shown that even when cocktails are administered perfectly the protocols may fall short of their stated aim, to cause death without inflicting inhumane punishment, especially when the anesthetic component is given slowly, as opposed to a rapid bolus.

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