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Lethal injection protocols may violate US constitution: medical study

[JURIST] The three-drug "cocktail" used to execute death row inmates by lethal injection [JURIST news archive] can fail, causing inmates to suffer a painful death, according to a study [text] published Monday by PLoS Medicine [journal website]. The study's authors said in a summary of their work:

We were able to analyze only a limited number of executions. However, our findings suggest that current lethal injection protocols may not reliably effect death through the mechanisms intended, indicating a failure of design and implementation. If thiopental and potassium chloride fail to cause anesthesia and cardiac arrest, potentially aware inmates could die through pancuronium-induced asphyxiation. Thus the conventional view of lethal injection leading to an invariably peaceful and painless death is questionable.
According to the editors' summary:
The authors conclude that even if lethal injection is administered without technical error, those executed may experience suffocation, and therefore that "the conventional view of lethal injection as an invariably peaceful and painless death is questionable." The Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The results of this paper suggest that current protocols used for lethal injection in the US probably violate this amendment.
The constitutionality of lethal injection has been a hot issue in recent months, with several states - including Florida, Maryland and California [JURIST reports] - ordering reviews of lethal injection protocols or suspending executions until the status of the death penalty can be resolved. AP has more.

Meanwhile, the American Bar Association has called on Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesden to extend a temporary moratorium on Tennessee executions [Tennessean report]. Bredesden imposed the moratorium [JURIST report] in February to allow a three-month "comprehensive review of the manner in which death sentences are administered," but the ABA said Monday that the review should be broadened [press release] "to permit a thorough review of every aspect of capital punishment administration in the state," including "excessive caseloads and inadequate standards for defense counsel" and "racial disparities and inadequate review of death row inmates' claims of actual innocence."

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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