Emmanuelle Purdon

Ohio's rush to change the State's lethal injection process

on 16 November 2009


Ohio has just announced plans to switch from the usual 3-drug cocktail used to execute inmates by lethal injection to a 1-drug method that has never used on humans before. The move comes only two months after an Ohio inmate, Romell Broom, walked away from a botched execution attempt.

The one drug method is currently used to euthanize pets or to sedate surgery patients. The plan is experiment with the unknown, on inmates, which is why the prison has a "back up plan":  another lethal injection process involving not three drugs, nor one, but two. The hope is that one way or the other, the inmate would get killed, although no evidence can support this as neither method has been tried on humans before.

"I chose to do it because I'm getting sued either way," Terry Collins, Ohio prison Director, said last Friday.

Worryingly, the state already said in a court filing last month it was having a hard time finding medical personnel willing to be consulted about the injection because of professional and ethical rules. The rules which generally prohibit doctors, nurses and others from involvement in capital punishment deter such personnel from speaking publicly or privately about alternatives to the state's lethal injection process.

So, how Terry Collins can guarantee that the new method will not constitute "crual and unusual" punishment is a question that is yet to be answered.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection last year, briefly addressed the prospect of using a single sedative in a dose large enough to cause death. "The 1-drug method", Justice Roberts said in his ruling, "has problems of its own, and has never been tried by a single state." That means Ohio could be vulnerable to new litigation, said Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University in New York and lethal injection expert.

Amongst many questions, one stands out: even assuming that the new one-drug process qualifies, does this make the death penalty more acceptable?

No, it doesn't. Perfection doesn't exist and there will always be a botched execution case to challenge the process. There always has been one. Botched executions are not rare, in fact, they are much more common that people know.

Aside from the moral argument supporting the abolition of the death penalty, we have simply got to recognize that there is no "acceptable" way to kill people. End of story.

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