Opinion: Lethal injections should be handled ethically

Samantha Karam

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced on Oct. 19 that until at least 2017, it will postpone all its scheduled executions.

Ohio plans to use sodium thiopental in future executions, but there’s a shortage of the drug. The delay in executions has refueled the debate over capital punishment. It’s also prompted further questioning of the ethics surrounding lethal injection.

The reason the U.S. is experiencing a shortage is because Hospira, the only U.S. based company that produced sodium thiopental, stopped making the drug. Hospira had difficulties obtaining raw materials needed for production, according to a 2011 New Scientist article.  

Sodium thiopental has been used in the U.S. since the late 197Os, but only as an anesthetic before surgeries, so prison officials can’t know how well the drug will meet their lethal needs.

I understand that those receiving lethal injections committed heinous crimes, but executions aren’t supposed to be guessing games.

Furthermore, the Death Penalty Information Center’s website states, “often (lethal) injections are performed by inexperienced technicians or orderlies.”

The whole point of a lethal injection is to be swift, yet people lacking medical expertise handle and inject these drugs. Therefore, inmates can suffer for long periods of time. That isn’t the objective of this form of execution.

If prison officials have no medical experience, they can’t possibly know their lethal injections will work quickly prior to the execution. After all, anesthesiologists have to go through years of schooling to get the medical training needed to properly manage drugs like sodium thiopental.   

Death row inmates deserve to pay for their crimes, but the more I look into lethal injections, the more unethical they become.

Ohio has changed its lethal injection process a few times now and before deciding on sodium thiopental alone, Ohio used a two-drug combination in the 2014 execution of Dennis McGuire.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center’s website, “McGuire gasped for air for some 25 minutes while the drugs used in the execution…slowly took effect.”

After McGuire’s execution, and a lawsuit from his family, Ohio stated it would use one drug rather than two for future executions.

A 2015 Huffington Post article stated the two-drug combination was never tested before being used as a lethal injection and neither has sodium thiopental.

Legal expert Deborah Denno compared the process of selecting an execution method to trying to figure out what to make for dinner.

“It’s like going to your kitchen cupboard trying to look for something to prepare for your next meal and just looking for anything,” she said.

When an execution method proves controversial, the state scrambles to find a replacement as soon as possible. This allows for too big a margin for error.  

Some inmates wait on death row for more than 20 years. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction shouldn’t have to act with such urgency if they have ample amounts of time to find effective means of lethal injection. More evaluation should go into finding lethal injection methods that are ethical.

Death row inmates need to pay for their terrible crimes, but in the end they’re still people. I think they deserve to die in a humane way.

Samantha Karam is an opinion writer for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].