tampabay.com

Lethal injections are horribly flawed

A Times Editorial
Published March 4, 2007


The state of Florida says that only a licensed physician or podiatrist is qualified to deal with something as minor as an ingrown toenail. But to execute another human being, no medical training is necessary. In fact, the person who led the team that put to death Angel Diaz in December said he had no medical qualifications whatsoever.

No one but a qualified expert with solid medical credentials should be engaged in the tricky and delicate process of administering lethal injections. And Diaz's botched execution puts an exclamation point on why.

Witnesses say Diaz was clearly in pain during the 34 minutes he took to die - double the normal amount of time. While state officials deny it, others who attended the execution say Diaz looked to be struggling for breath and grimacing as the execution team pumped 14 syringes of chemicals and saline into him.

With the needle insertions done badly, probably tearing through his veins, Diaz ended up with footlong chemical blisters on both arms. This would explain why Diaz took so long to die. The lethal three-drug cocktail had to be absorbed from his flesh through the bloodstream rather than move through intact veins .

The medical examiner testifying before a state commission examining Florida's lethal injection protocols said that "none of the materials injected went to the right place."

There is a strong possibility that Diaz suffered severely during the process. There is no way to know whether the sedative was working when the killer chemical was administered. Had it not been, Diaz would have felt like his flesh was on fire. A drug that largely paralyzed him would have kept him from screaming in pain.

There was a moratorium on executions in the state pending the report and recommendations of the governor's Commission on Administration of Lethal Injection, which came out Thursday. But it doesn't take a study to know that the state should not be using a procedure so likely to cause pain that veterinarians won't use it to put down pets. And it doesn't take much common sense to know that only a medical professional should be administering lethal drugs.

The commission's recommendations primarily ask that additional training, supervision and procedures be adopted for future lethal injections. Many of the recommendations are so basic that it is hard to believe they aren't part of current practice, such as making sure that each syringe is "appropriately labeled" with the name of the substance it contains.

But the most important recommendation is the one suggesting that the three-drug chemical cocktail now used in executions be reconsidered. Pancrounin Bromide, the drug that paralyzes the inmate and makes it impossible to communicate pain, should not be used again.

The commission recognized that the process requires "some qualified medical personnel" to accomplish "a humane and lawful execution." Since the Florida Medical Association and the American Medical Association bar physicians from taking a life in this manner, it might be difficult for the state to procure those services. That is another reason why the state should abolish capital punishment.