Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Death By Lethal Injection a Crime in Itself

The Supreme Court recently blocked two lethal injections in Florida pending its ruling this spring in a case that could decide whether death row inmates are able to delay their executions to raise civil rights claims.

The claim: Lethal injection constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” thereby violating the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. The debate concerning lethal injection has only deepened in the past month, turning the whole execution process into a farce so misguided that it would almost be humorous if lives were not at stake.

Lethal injection was once heralded as a humane way to kill, but a recent study published in the Lancet, a respected British medical journal, claims that it is anything but. The study concluded that in 43 out of 49 executions studied, the inmate may have been semi-conscious yet paralyzed when the heart-stopping drug, potassium chloride, was administered. In other words, the inmates could have been at least partially aware and in excruciating pain while trapped inside their bodies, unable to flail or cry out.

Based on these developments, a U.S. district judge ruled last week that the state of California could go through with its lethal injection of Michael Morales – a 46-year-old convicted of murder in 1983 – if it altered its execution procedure.

The first choice was to only administer the first type of drug thereby greatly prolonging the execution. The second choice was to ask for the assistance of medical personnel. California chose to go forward with the execution by employing two registered anesthesiologists to assist in the execution chamber – a move denounced by the California Medical Association and the American Society of Anesthesiologists and which was in violation of the American Medical Association’s code of ethics.

“An anesthesiologist who enters the death chamber is clearly violating national and internationally established medical ethics,” said Jonathan Groner of the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health in a statement. “Not since Nazi physicians supervised the killing of mentally and physically disabled individuals … have high-ranking physicians become so intimately involved in state-sponsored killing.”

The two anesthesiologists brought in to consult on the execution ultimately refused to participate after the judge declared they would have to intervene to assist in death if the patient were to be in pain. The same judge also declared that the doctors would have to administer the drugs themselves. The anesthesiologists walked out in a courageous move of great integrity, refusing to actively contribute to the prisoner’s death.

President Bush, who presided over 152 executions as the governor of Texas, claims that he promotes a culture of life. This week, meanwhile, the state of California attempted to employ doctors – professionals meant to utilize their education only to save lives – to help take a life.

While some may claim that executing an individual will deter other criminals from killing, studies have shown that this is simply not the case. Research has shown, however, that the death penalty is imposed unfairly based on economics and the race of the perpetrator and victim, that 122 people have been released from death row since 1978 and that even the most humane methods of execution can amount to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Michael Morales committed a horrific crime. We should not enlist our nation’s physicians to commit their own atrocities.

Katherine McCullough is a senior in the College and treasurer of the GU Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

More to Discover