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OUR VIEW: Injecting humanity into death penalty

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:55 PM

No matter if one counts himself a supporter of the death penalty or not, most agree it should be done in the most effective way possible, ending life quickly and painlessly.

Most states have decided the best method is the three drug formula used in lethal injections, first developed in the late '70s. The first drug is an anesthetic; the second paralyzes all muscles, including the ones needed to breathe; and the third causes cardiac arrest.

But someone is speaking out and questioning if the time isn't right to change the formula its creator, Dr. Jay Chapman.

"It may be time to change it," Chapman said in a recent interview with CNN. "There are many problems that can arise ... given the concerns people are raising with the protocol it should be re-examined."

One of the problems is the anesthetic drug used, which does not affect everyone the same. According to a recent study, instead of providing a quick, painless death, some death row inmates are actually conscious when they slowly suffocate from the injection but are unable to communicate because their muscles are paralyzed.

For example, it took 90 minutes for Ohio officials to execute Joseph Clark, convicted of murdering two people. News accounts of his execution indicate Clark raised his head off the gurney and said repeatedly, "don't work, don't work," and moaned and groaned as he struggled with prison officials. He eventually asked prison officials, "Can you just give me something by mouth to end this?"

There are, of course, some who would say Clark and other murderers deserve the most painful means of death possible. However, making sure the death penalty is administered in a humane way is the difference between justice and vengeance.

Which means, if states are going to continue to administer the death penalty, the lethal injection formula must be changed. Chapman admits that, were he creating the drug combo today he would not have done things the same.

In addition, because it is such a complicated procedure, lethal injection leaves the door open to general incompetence on prison medical staffs. In Florida last year, an execution took 34 minutes because IV needles were inserted straight through the inmate's veins and into the flesh in his arms.

We hope Chapman's words will be heeded and a new, better formula developed though we're not sure bringing back the guillotine, as Chapman suggests to CNN, is the best path for the future.

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