Supreme Court goes execution-happy; prisoner suffers horrible death

October 29, 2021 • 12:00 pm

Biden has stated that he wants to end the practice of federal executions, though he can’t stop ones by the states. However, most Americans still favor the death penalty (60% approve, 39% oppose). And so, apparently, does the Supreme Court. As reader Ken emailed me:

SCOTUS lifted the stay of execution on two Oklahoma death-row inmates imposed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The three liberal justices dissented. (Justice Gorsuch took no part in the decision, presumably because he had considered one or both of the cases while he was a 10th Circuit judge, prior to his appointment to the high court.)

One of the inmates was executed tonight within hours of the ruling; the other is scheduled for execution on Nov. 18th. The NYT article reporting SCOTUS’s action recounts Oklahoma’s history of botched executions.
And this one was botched too (cruel and unusual punishment is just one reason to oppose capital punishment).  As KOCO in Oklahoma City reports, the lethal injection did not at all go smoothly. There’s an eyewitness account by AP reporter Sean Murphy:

The Associated Press’ Sean Murphy, who witnessed the execution, described what he saw after Grant was injected with the first of three execution drugs called midazolam.

“He did convulse more than two dozen times, and those were pretty violent convulsions while he was strapped to the gurney,” Murphy said. “Then he began to vomit. The vomit pooled in his mouth and ran down his face. At that point, he was still trying to breathe because you could see bubbles coming out of his mouth as he attempted to breathe.”

Murphy said he’s seen more than a dozen executions, and he’s never seen an inmate vomit like that. He added that the only other time he’s seen violent convulsions like this was during the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, one of the last before Oklahoma stopped executions.

“We have come to the conclusion that for the third time in a row, the Oklahoma lethal injection protocol did not work how it was supposed to work,” said Dale Baich, one of the lawyers challenging Oklahoma’s use of midazolam.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections later released a statement saying the execution was carried out “without complications.” ODOC officials also shared a statement from the daughter of Grant’s victim, saying in part that she prays justice prevails for other victims’ loved ones.

Midazolam, a benzodiazepine normally used as a light anesthetic to calm patients before surgery or during colonoscopies, is now used by seven states as the first drug in the three-drug execution sequence. But it has an uneven history, being part, for example, of one execution where the inmate was given 15 doses and took two hours to die. One problem is that no drug company will sell it for execution purposes, so the states have to get it from secondary sources like “compounding pharmacies” that aren’t subject to FDA standards or approval. This means that drugs could be made in improper ways or be contaminated.  Here’s what the Death Penalty Information Center says of Midazolam:

MIDAZOLAM: Seven states have used midazolam as the first drug in the three-drug protocol: Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Virginia, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Oklahoma used midazolam in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014, and Lockett died after the procedure was halted. Alabama’s use of midazolam in the execution of Ronald Smith in December 2016, resulted in nearly fifteen minutes of Smith heaving and gasping for breath. Arkansas’s use of use midazolam in four executions in April 2017 raised concerns and in the execution of Kenneth Williams, witnesses reported coughing, convulsing, lurching and jerking. In January 2017, Florida abandoned its use of midazolam as the first drug in its three-drug protocol and replaced it with etomidate. Two states have used midazolam in a two-drug protocol consisting of midazolam and hydromorphone: Ohio (Dennis McGuire) and Arizona (Joseph Wood). Both of those executions, which were carried out in 2014, were prolonged and accompanied by the prisoners’ gasping for breath. After its botched execution of McGuire, Ohio abandoned its use of midazolam in a two-drug protocol, but then in October 2016 decided to keep midazolam in a three-drug protocol. In December 2016, Arizona abandoned its use of midazolam in either a two-drug or a three-drug protocol. Three states have, at some point, proposed using midazolam in a two-drug protocol (Louisiana, Kentucky, and Oklahoma) but none of those states has followed through with that formula. Some states have proposed multiple protocols. Missouri administered midazolam to inmates as a sedative before the official execution protocol began.

Regardless, though, I oppose any killing in return for killing; life without parole (or, better, Norway’s system of 21-year sentences with periodic evaluation after that) is sufficient punishment. The Supreme Court apparently disregards this shameful history of botched executions. Biden should commute every federal death sentence to a life sentence, but he can’t do squat about state executions.

Midazolam for proper medical use (not executions)

61 thoughts on “Supreme Court goes execution-happy; prisoner suffers horrible death

  1. “Norway’s system of 21-year sentences with periodic evaluation” is not without certain difficulties. The mass murder Anders Behring Breivik has besieged the Norwegian authorities with complaints about
    his treatment in prison. He grumbles, for example, that “his cell was poorly decorated and had no view, his reading lamp was inadequate, guards supervised him while he would brush his teeth and shaved, and put indirect mental pressure on him to finish quickly by tapping their feet while waiting.” Even more
    heart-breaking, the prison apparently turned down his demand for “a PlayStation 3 to replace the current PlayStation 2, because it offered more suitable games”. Norway could have avoided a lot of paperwork
    if it had imposed on Mr. Breivik, convicted perpetrator of 77 murders, an older and more permanent form of removal from society.

    1. Maybe, but the law is there not for kvetchers, but for all murderers who might be redeemable. I don’t think a lot of paperwork is reason enough for life without parole. At least people can be periodically evaluated to see if they’ve reformed. Maybe Breivik won’t be (that’s almost certain!), but who gets the evaluation and who doesn’t? That’s unfair.

    2. Norway could have avoided a lot of paperwork

      Oh – hold my horse. Several centuries of deep and complex moral and philosophical debate on the validity of state-sanctioned cold blooded murder (with or without accompanying the torture America seems to be moving towards as an expected part of the process), and no one before has noticed the appaling suffering imposed on bureaucrats by having to do excessive paperwork. Even worse – they do it on the 9-to-5, sometimes with overtime “double bubble”.
      Well, I for one think we have our new candidate for Mahatma, Pope, Grand Mufti and Archbis of Canterbury. Such depth! Such incisiveness. Careful, Jon , you might find yourself at the head of a new religion.

      1. The strongest argument against the death penalty is its irreversibility, foreclosing the possibility of changing the sentence in light of new evidence. This argument does not apply in a case where the
        evidence of the accused crimes is incontrovertible, such as the that of Anders Breivik. And in cases like his, or that of Hermann Goring who was condemned to death at Nuremberg, an observer may meditate on whether the penalty matches the crime. One may wonder whether a 21-year prison sentence (with cell decorations and play station games) followed by an assessment of the inmate’s progress, is quite commensurate with the specific criminal actions which brought about the sentence.

        Of course, I understand that Norwegian penal law is meant for a different category of criminal actions than that of Anders Breivik. Maybe there are exceptional behaviors (like, for example, murdering 77 innocent strangers) that call for exceptional penal consequences.

        1. Plus the strongest argument *for* the death penalty is its irreversibility… convicted killers will never be around to kill again, either in prison, or when released. It’s a paradox and depends on what values you hold.

        2. The strongest argument against the death penalty is its irreversibility

          That implies you are aware that there are other arguments against the death penalty. Do they stop applying just because the strongest argument doesn’t?

          an observer may meditate on whether the penalty matches the crime

          This idea of penalties matching the crime is quite problematic when you examine it in detail. How do you match 77 murders? Why even try? What benefit will it bring to anybody, even if you could execute Breivik 77 times over?

          Of course, I understand that Norwegian penal law is meant for a different category of criminal actions than that of Anders Breivik.

          I don’t think you understand the Norwegian penal system at all. I think they’re decided that punishments for revenge are pointless and it’s better to try to rehabilitate people to be more positive members of society.

        3. This argument [regarding the irreversibility of the death penalty] does not apply in a case where the evidence of the accused crimes is incontrovertible …

          I’m sure you know such cases when you see them, Jon, but can you propose a system by which juries of laymen can consistently make such decisions without risk of error?

          It is much too easy for jurors to confuse their revulsion at an act for certitude that the accused was the actor.

  2. Shocking. There are some barbaric aspects of life (and death) in the US that are hard for those of us outside to comprehend existing in the 21st century.

  3. “He did convulse more than two dozen times, and those were pretty violent convulsions while he was strapped to the gurney,” Murphy said. “Then he began to vomit. The vomit pooled in his mouth and ran down his face. At that point, he was still trying to breathe because you could see bubbles coming out of his mouth as he attempted to breathe.”

    Were I ever to be in the horrible situation of death row, I think I’d I’d try to argue in favor of a firing squad. Everything since then seems not so much an ‘improvement’ as a chance for the state to try out new toys.

      1. Numerous observations suggest that the brain doesn’t go ‘off’ instantaneously after beheading. Consciousness may continue for perhaps a 20-60s of intense suffering.

        1. Numerous observations

          I know of several anecdotes (3 or 4, if that many) from the approximate period of Galvani twitching frogs legs and Mary Shelly writing Frankenstein (without, IIRC, any HV equipment with defective insulation) during the “Year Without a Summer”. But after that, I’ve heard of nothing. Got a source for “numerous observations”?
          As I recall, one of the “observers” got frog-like twitches from a severed head and a “voltaic pile”. But they’d probably have been able to do that with a head from a “long drop” hanging botched in the classic fashion. More a question of residual ATP in the tissues than the execution method.

    1. A more humane and practical method would be to flood the cell with nitrogen once the condemned had fallen asleep. I’ve read that the body breathes as normal since carbon dioxide is expelled but the lack of oxygen promotes deeper unconsciousness, then death.

      Of course talking about a humane way of execution involves other more philosophical debates.

  4. I think that not only do most Americans favor the death penalty, but many want executions to be more cruel. They don’t want justice they want revenge.

    1. At the same time, if executions were actually televised, I imagine more Americans would be against them- especially when witnessing a gruesome execution like the one described here. But maybe I’m wrong, and Americans would relish the suffering…our culture is sick with religion, after all.

      1. Sigh. Religion. I’m very grateful that our state respects and allows death with dignity. I’ve got my advance directive filed with my attorney. Religion is the reason other places do not allow this, and the reason we won’t allow doctors and researchers to advance the means used to end life compassionately. Even the guillotine would be better than this man’s death in the prison.

        1. Yeah, I’m glad to live in Washington for that reason as well. Plus legalized marijuana and mail-in voting. 🙂

          1. And you’ll move elsewhere when a Republican happens to be elected governor? I’m aware that’s remote just now. So apparently seemed having a mass murderer like Trump elected 5 years ago. And the continuing support of 10s of millions??

            It would be safer to make attempts at citizenship in a civilized country, not a (temporarily?) civilized state.

            I cannot remember whether the secessionists are in Washington, or Oregon, or both. But not living in the eastern part might be advisable.

            I’m a Canuck not living in Alberta; but am deeply unhappy about the many supporters of the oil sands extraction there helping to bring about the ‘climate change early execution’ (so to speak) of many of my descendants.

            1. As a foreigner also, I would want to be circumspect about referring to the democratically elected head of another country’s government as a mass murderer, especially when among friends. If they want to do it, fine. Just be careful about what you display of yourself by piling on.

        2. Tangential but genuinely curious. Can you write an advance directive that covers medical euthanasia in your state? If you are compos mentis there is no need for one. In Canada, you must be compos mentis to agree to be euthanized and so an advance directive would not empower your surrogate decision-maker to consent on your behalf to have it done. This is a problem for people with dementia who may lose permanently the capacity to consent and, with it, the ability to have euthanasia, even if they had always said they wanted it! We’re not sure if this can be resolved, but if your state has, we’d appreciate knowing how you did it.
          If that’s what you mean by “death with dignity”, that is. If instead you mean the wish not to have tubes and wires and CPR and all the rest, then yes, your surrogate can refuse those on your behalf where I live. Then the written advance directive gives the doctors some assurance that that is indeed what you did not want, provided it’s written more clearly than “death with dignity” or “no heroic measures.”

      2. “. . .if executions were actually televised, I imagine more Americans would be against them especially when witnessing a gruesome execution. . .”

        And if more gruesome murders were televised, Mark, I imagine more Americans would be in favor of capital punishment. But both of these “ifs” have more to do with emotions than justice. Not that there’s anything wrong with emotions, or any such thing as justice.

        1. Good point…even though I wouldn’t mind the public being shown photos/videos of mass murders by guns. It wouldn’t help people like me, who are against the death penalty, but it might sway public opinion when it comes to guns, especially high magazine, assault style weapons where 50 people can be killed in minutes.

    2. You’re probably right. It wasn’t that long ago that lynchings were treated as entertainment. Americans are not particularly civilized.

  5. I wonder why they don’t use the same stuff they use to put animals to sleep, as that is instantaneous. Or how about cyanide? That’s quick too.

    1. The drugs used to put animals down is manufactured and acquired from Europe (iirc) and they don’t sell the drugs to the US for human execution. As for cyanide, I have no idea…even if it’s quick, it might be extremely painful?

      1. Cyanide is NOT a good way to die. It shuts down cellular respiration, but it doesn’t tend to kill quickly, it’s horrible by all accounts I’ve read or heard. The gas chamber was basically HCN gas, if I recall. Hell, just having someone breathe pure nitrogen would work better…no sense of suffocation because nitrogen doesn’t trigger the respiratory drive in any way, there would just be lightheadedness, fainting/unconsciousness, then death, though it can take a few minutes.

        I wonder why they don’t learn from Dignitas and give people ultra-high doses of phenobarbital (I think that’s what they use there in Switzerland). Then, of course, when a person is convincingly unconscious, which could be monitored by EEG, potassium could be used to stop the heart, or even high dose digitalis, I suppose. I think that some vets use that plus barbiturates to euthanize animals.

        Of course, honestly, it would be better to eliminate the death penalty altogether, since even if execution is ever justified…which is open to argument…the state is clearly incapable of determining guilt to an acceptable moral certainty, to say nothing of carrying out execution in any kind of efficient and reasonable (let alone humane) way.

        Or alternatively, use that asteroid deflection technology that’s being developed and preemptively euthanize the whole planet. Save time. It was also counter global warming.

        1. You’re right, barbiturates would be an effective and reliable way to deliver unconsciousness and even death in larger doses (by respiratory arrest). The truth is there are many very reliable ways to kill someone through the administration of drugs. There are all sorts of combinations that will do the trick, but finding a good drug combo is not the issue. The issue is in being able to deliver the right amount of a drug via the correct route of administration to produce a predictable and reliable response.

          This is a trivial problem to solve, evidenced by the extreme safety of modern anaesthesia. In any surgery, you are given several drugs that could easily kill you, but they don’t because:

          1. They are administered by a professional or a team of professionals who specialise in that area of medicine and have full access to the necessary equipment. They also have access to all the routes of administration they require and have contingencies in place to deal with issues that may arise.
          2. Medics have access to exactly the drugs they need, in the correct strength and formulation.

          Drug executions are often botched because neither point 1 or point 2 can ever be satisfied in an execution. Medical personnel will, and rightly so, refuse to be involved in the process. Drug companies will, rightly so, refuse to supply drugs that may be used for execution.

          This means that in executions, drugs are delivered inconsistently and often completely incorrectly. Such a mistake can prevent the drug from working almost entirely. It might cause severe localised pain because IV drugs are being delivered subcutaneously or intramuscularly. It might just not work because the drug was not properly formulated at the compounding pharmacy. If this occurs, there are no suitably qualified medical personnel to identify and correct such issues.

          This all stems from the need of the judicial system to kill with apparent ‘humanity’, by turning killing into a quasi-medical procedure. For the sake of the condemned, shooting in the head with a large calibre round would surely be preferable – it’s instantaneous and 100% effective – you could even prepare the inmate with enough oral benzos/barbiturates to render them insensible / unconscious for the execution. But blowing someone’s head to pieces while they appear half-asleep is not good optics. Even Himler was upset by seeing brain splatter and skull fragments of murdered Jews. After witnessing such a spectacle, he ordered executions to be done by gas, not for the sake of the condemned, but for everyone else.

        2. The drugs companies that manufacture the most effective means of killing people painlessly won’t sell them for the purpose of executions.

          Of course, as note by Nicholas at #4, there are Americans (not just Americans, to be fair) in favour of the death penalty who regard the production of intense pain as a feature, not a bug.

  6. Poster #5 raises a very good point. When my daughter and I had our terminally ill cat put to sleep, it
    was completely peaceful. I don’t know of any cases of convulsions and so on in cases of euthanized
    pets. I wonder if readers with medical (or veterinary) knowledge could explain why similarly fool-proof, peaceful lethal treatment for a large, bipedal mammal is not readily available.

    1. As Mark R. says, the producers of said drugs refuse to sell them to the U.S. for purposes of execution.

      I suppose the USG could set up it’s own manufacturing base, but that seems ridiculous given the number of federal executions (and the fact that just because the fed provided such a drug, doesn’t mean states like Texas would opt to use it. I can easily imagine the response: “this is painless? No thanks, we’ll pass.”)

      1. But why can’t the executioners just acquire some of the drugs from US veterinarians? Wouldn’t the prison even have some on hand already, e.g. in case they had to euthanize injured guard dogs? This is hardly the first time veterinary drugs would be “off-label” used for humans.

        Come to think of it, why not just use the drug protocol for sedating someone to put them on a ventilator, then have the executioner turn off the ventilator. Or just don’t attach the ventilator in the first place.

        1. Well first, it probably violates some law about drug resale.
          Beyond that, the European companies aren’t stupid; if they see that happening (and it’s pretty hard to hide, given the press around federal executions), they’ll just stop selling the drug to US vets, hospitals, whatever.

          1. If a prison already has a drug supply on hand for standard animal euthanasia, it wouldn’t be a drug resale at all. And the number of executions now is so low, it’s hard to see a company foregoing all sales of the drug in the whole US to make sure none is ever used for an execution.

            Is this stuff really that hard to make? Wouldn’t there be a non-patented, “generic”, version which could be made easily and relatively cheaply in the US? Drug patents only last 20 years, and surely there were versions 20 years ago?
            Note it doesn’t have to be made just for human executions. Make a batch and have it mostly for the state’s veterinarians and animal-control to use normally, and keep a few doses around for death penalty use. Thus the costs would seem to be pretty marginal, mostly the inefficiency of using the generic stuff versus the on-patent stuff.

      2. I suppose the USG could set up it’s own manufacturing base, but that seems ridiculous given

        … that they’d be encouraging their own drug companies to violate other drug companies perfectly legal patents and licensing arrangements.
        “Hello, Mr Cobbler. I’d like you to adjust this shoe that gives me slight blisters, using this hair-trigger thermonuclear “diplomacy by other means” argument.”
        I don’t think the take up would be high.
        In 30-odd years of dealing with very valuable oil exploration data (influencing tens of billions of dollars of investment decisions), I only heard of one case where one of my colleagues sold a data set from a well to a competing company. They brought it, took it off the market, then gave it back to it’s rightful owners, along with the thief’s contact details. And were reimbursed for their costs. They didn’t want the inverse to happen to them. (The story circulates about “a country in SE Asia”. The thief probably didn’t enjoy his ill-gotten gains for long.)

    2. It is; it requires a large dose of pentobarbital, but that can’t be obtained from pharmaceutical companies. It’s what they use to put animals to sleep. But again, I’m opposed to the death penalty.

      1. Yes, I’m against the death penalty yoo. The point is that there are ways to execute someone swiftly and painlessly. Vets do that on a regular basis.
        If you have to execute, and medical doctors cannot because of their hippocratic oath, why not go for a veterinarian?
        Because they use drugs not approved for human use? That would make little sense.

        1. The veterinarian who practices medicine on a human … is likely to be in all sorts of trouble with his veterinary-standards body, the local doctors-standards authority and everyone down from them.
          Next thing you know, you’d have veterinarians officiating as doctors ringside at boxing matches.
          If nothing else, every veterinarian who has ever argued that “I’m as skilled as a human doctor, but deal with dozens of times more species” will spend the rest of their life hunting down the human-executing vet in order to “give them a flea in their ear”. Possibly literally.

    3. I’m a vet. I won’t be helping out with the barbarism of the USA (fwiw I am vehemently against capital punishment but pro voluntary euthanasia) but as an academic exercise…
      I often have to euthanise an unwilling subject and can sympathise (perhaps an inappropriate choice of word) with the difficulties involved for the people carrying out the murder. Euthanasias don’t all go smoothly unfortunately. If I had free use of drugs and I wanted to make it as peaceful as possible then what I would reach for would be pentobarbitone (tal in USAian) with no pre-med. This requires that I have IV access which might present a challenge in an unwilling victim. If I did not have secure IV access then I would give an IM injection of etorphine which I could dart-gun if I needed to. I would have a trusted colleague holding the antidote in case of accidental self-injection.
      The more drugs you add into the mix the more likely you will get bizarre reactions so I find it odd that the state-sanctioned murderers choose to use a cocktail of drugs. Using midazelam in my patients would be an unnecessary choice likely to cause more problems than it solves. It is an anxiolytic, which probably explains the thinking behind its use, but it is inconsistent and would cause more problems than it solves in my world. It would not be expected to produce seizures in animals – it would be expected to stop them.

    4. The intended-to-be-humane methods of execution are all founded in anesthetic techniques modified for the purpose and involve intravenous injections. Many condemned prisoners have a long history of intravenous drug use and have destroyed all their accessible veins. It is not uncommon for highly skilled nurses in emergency departments to be unable to “find a vein” in a determined addict to deliver life-saving treatment. If the person trying to find a vein only thinks he has, but misses, injection will be both ineffective and painful. The stress and fear of impending execution can cause veins to collapse just when you try to find them. When I hear of “botched executions” that’s the first thing I think of. Habituation to drugs, easily available in prisons, may make it hard to deliver a lethal or even sedating dose especially if you have a limited number of drugs at your disposal and no real knowledge about how to choose and use them.

      A rapidly acting barbiturate, thiopental, used to be used for inducing unconsciousness for both surgical anesthesia and execution but the drug has been supplanted in medical use by other drugs and I don’t think it’s even made any more. Presumably the manufacturers would be no more willing to sell the replacements for execution than they were thiopental towards the end. And it required i.v. access just like everything else.

      Waiting for an EEG to show no brain activity before giving a drug to stop the heart would be impractical in a prison. It was given as soon as the prisoner was rendered unconscious.

      I don’t understand why midazolam would cause seizures, except maybe from brain hypoxia as breathing slowed down. You don’t see seizures when using it for brief painful emergency procedures but you have to be careful with it and I think it, too, is falling out of favour since I retired.. Anyone given any anesthetic may vomit, especially if the stomach is full, and if strapped to a gurney and unable to be rapidly moved to the “recovery position” with suction available would surely aspirate vomitus into the airway and choke to death. Which is the point, I guess.

      There is no inherent reason why someone beheaded would instantly lose sensation or awareness. Cardiac arrest, if a heart monitor happens to be in place, does not produce instant unconsciousness; it takes some seconds for the higher brain functions to get the message. I have read a contemporary account of a beheading that described in lurid Enlightenment-era prose the evidence of at least some brain activity in the severed head for maybe te20 seconds.

  7. Looking at the two cases, it appears one was a hail Mary which was never going to work. Chutkan’s lawyer argued that he couldn’t be executed with the drug because he didn’t have a prescription for it. Sorry, but even as a death penalty opposer, I think that should be thrown out.

    The Hall appeal OTOH looks actually reasonable. The prosecution team not only struck all the black jurors in his case, but was later found to have illegally struck jurors based on race in another case. The big problem with his argument appears (from my brief reading) to be that the prosecution’s illegal conduct happened and became known years ago, and his lawyer is just now bringing it up.

  8. I really don’t get why we can’t kill someone painlessly. People die of overdoses all the time and, if TV is to be believed, it’s fairly painless and might even be pleasurable. Why does that not work?

    For the record, I’m against the death penalty for its finality: no chance to reverse it if the accused turns out to be innocent.

    1. It would be entirely doable and not even expensive. The lethal doses vary from person to person, of course,, but a strong enough dose of, say, fentanyl is going to kill ANYONE, especially if combined with barbiturates or benzodiazepines. I honestly think many people don’t want it to be too humane.

    1. Seriously. As I noted above, pure nitrogen triggers no respiratory drive (the atmosphere is 80% nitrogen already), and it’s about as cheap and readily available as anything at all. You can use non-rebreather masks to prevent carbon dioxide buildup, which would lead to the feeling of suffocation if it happened, and that’s it. But, again, the powers that be aren’t really interested in peaceful, humane deaths.

      1. Just plain open circuit masks (aircraft pilot type ; no seals) would be sufficient. The volume of exhaled and bypassed nitrogen (20-50 L/ min, depending on breathing rate) would not be a threat to any staff in the “gas chamber” as long as there was some degree of forced ventilation. I’d go for inlet vents at the foot of the walls, with nice bright bits of ribbon flapping in them, so you know they’re working.
        Ever done the “traverse the blacked-out smoke-filled room and stairways” exercise in your fire-training at work? While it is moderately stressful (but it’s the water training that killed trainees, before we started requiring ECGs as part of the medical examination), it’s not the worst 50m of your life. Perfectly reasonable for staff to be trained to use ground-level ventilation in the event of “problems”.

      2. Corollary : whatever gaseous agent they used in the “Moscow Opera House” hostage “rescue” was something that anaesthetists treat with considerable caution, when they’re sitting by a patient wired to a full suite of monitoring equipment, with a loaded hypo of antidote already lined up on the patient’s saline feed.

  9. I can’t read past the first few paras of this post which boosted my adrenalin and anxiety levels to a toxic level, nor others’ comments (for, potentially, the same reason).
    I’m compelled to say, however, that in my opinion no country that retains and uses the death penalty can consider itself truly civilized, let alone ‘great’.
    An Australian.

  10. What are they using in states where euthanasia is legal? In the US, physician-assisted euthanasia is legal in nine states.

    1. Probably drug that have been licensed by their manufacturers for euthanasia and pain control, but not execution.
      The drugs which are giving problems due to refusal-to-license are, TTBOMK, ones for which the patents are held by EU companies … in a number of whose states euthanasia is legal.

  11. I’m opposed to the death penalty. I do wonder, though, if there are any studies / data as to whether the death penalty brings more effective closure or relief to victims families than a life sentence. My guess is that it doesn’t but I might be wrong.

  12. Through carefully choreographed judicial performance art, we sentence people to death and actually kill some of them, usually for killing other people. We commit the same act that the executed people committed but we call it something else, using our judicial procedures as a justification of the difference. If an individual kills, justice demands another death but if the community as a whole kills, that’s justified. WTF? The logic that underpins this issue reminds me of a Monty Python skit.

    1. Yep, it’s similar to the logic around abortion. If you are a foetus with no conscious awareness, then the conservative bible-bashers believe your ‘life’ must be protected at ALL costs. If, on the other hand, you are a criminal (especially one that doesn’t look like them), you’re fair game and they’ll be delighted to see you executed. Hey, they’ll even be happy to shoot you themselves if you stray on to their property.

      Hate and blood lust lie just below the surface. These people inhabit a monumentally f***ed up moral universe.

  13. Murphy said. “Then he began to vomit. The vomit pooled in his mouth and ran down his face. At that point, he was still trying to breathe because you could see bubbles coming out of his mouth as he attempted to breathe.”

    Yeah – I’ve had that nightmare a few times. Mixture of various near-drowning incidents in the caves, combined with that corpse vomiting into my mouth while I was doing CPR (he was a DOA when the ambulance finally arrived and got him to the hospital ; but with his wife and young child watching and screaming in the corner, there wasn’t a lot I could do but spit it out and carry on. I recommend mouth-to-nose for a better seal and a less vomit-y experience.). Still wakes me up sweating every few weeks.
    This sort of event is more likely to encourage support for government murder.
    Televising ALL executions, with simultaneous broadcast on all channels (also, youTube, NetFlix, Amazon, etc – make it really hard to avoid) in the executing state, followed by live tub-thumping by the responsible governor would probably be a more effective deterrent (against botching of the government murder process).
    Doesn’t America have a national “emergency broadcast” system that this could be piggy-backed on? An emergency system that doesn’t get regular, realistic testing is not a system that you can consider reliable.
    Should be really popular with the politicians. They’re normally some of the blunter spoons in the knife drawer.
    Someone up-thread (PCCE?) suggested that the death penalty isn’t a terribly effective deterrent against murder. Of course it’s not. The only effective deterrent against pretty much any form of crime is a realistic expectation of getting caught. Most murderers who plan to murder someone have a well-considered plan to avoid getting caught.

  14. Please note that I am absolutely against the death penalty when you read the following.

    SCOTUS lifted the stay of execution on two Oklahoma death-row inmates imposed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The three liberal justices dissented.

    This is somewhat disturbing. It is the job of a judge to make correct decisions based in law. This sentence implies that all the Republican judges voted to kill the inmates and all the Democrats voted not to kill the inmates, excepting one justice who recused himself. I’m sorry but, if there was no reason in law to stay the executions a supreme court justice should not be voting to stay the executions, not matter what their personal opinion is. The law is a barbaric one but it is the law and it represents the wishes of the duly elected Congress (and by extension, the people of the USA). Conversely, if there was good reason in law to stay the executions, the Republican judges should have put aside their personal preferences. The fact that the Supreme Court of the United States is politicised should be of immense concern to its citizens.

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