A leading US anaesthesiologist has testified that a prisoner recently executed in Georgia, USA using a new lethal injection drug ‘suffered greatly’ during the process.
In a sworn affidavit, Dr David Waisel, an Associate Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School, stated: “…I can say with certainty that Mr. [Roy] Blankenship was inadequately anesthetized and was conscious for approximately the first three minutes of the execution and that he suffered greatly.”
“Critically”, he added, eyewitness accounts stated that Mr Blankenship’s eyes “were open throughout”. According to Dr Waisel, his eyes should not have remained open after the injection of the anaesthetic pentobarbital, which Georgia was using in an execution for the first time. In response to opinions reported in the media that Mr Blankenship could have been ‘faking it’, Dr Waisel points out that “one cannot fake eyes-wide-open at death.”
Roy Willard Blankenship was executed on 23 June using the new execution drug pentobarbital (also known as Nembutal), which has largely replaced the previously-used anaesthetic sodium thiopental in most executing states. Sodium thiopental has become scarce in the US in the last few months, following the halting of domestic production.
Concerns have been raised over the safety of the new execution protocols involving pentobarbital, and accounts are starting to emerge of apparently botched executions resulting from the use of a new and untested drug. Reports of the execution in Alabama of Eddie Duval Powell on 16 June – the second in that state using pentobarbital – show that his behaviour during the process was similar to that of Mr Blankenship, including the jerking of the head and expressions of apparent surprise and discomfort.
Notes to editors
1. For further information please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0) 20 7427 1082 / (0) 7791 755 415
2. The full text of Dr Waisel’s affidavit is available on Reprieve’s website – key extracts are below:
“…I can say with certainty that Mr. Blankenship was inadequately anesthetized and was conscious for approximately the first three minutes of the execution and that he suffered greatly. Mr. Blankenship should not have been conscious or exhibiting these movements, nor should his eyes have been open, after the injection of pentobarbital.
“Only when a drug has been tested systematically on thousands of subjects, with their consent, can one begin to reliably assess how an untested use of a drug will affect human subjects. We do not have relevant data in similar populations for pentobarbital. Because we do not have sufficient data, there is no way to know, in any given case, how an overdose of pentobarbital will affect basically healthy inmates. Mr. Blankenship’s reaction to the pentobarbital injection may be indicative of other inmates’ reactions.”
3. Further information on the executions of Mr Blankenship and Mr Powell, including links to eyewitness media accounts, can be found here: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/press/2011_06_28_botched_pentobarbital_executions