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Report No. 187

(j) Lethal Injection

Death by lethal injection involves the continuous intravenous injection of a lethal quantity of three different drugs. The prisoner is secured on a gurney with lined ankle and wrist restraints. A cardiac monitor and a stethoscope are attached, and two saline intravenous lines are started, one in each arm. The inmate is then covered with a sheet. The saline intravenous lines are turned off, and Sodium Thiopental is injected, causing the inmate to fall into a deep sleep. The second chemical agent, Pancuronium Bromide, a muscle relaxer, follows. This causes the inmate to stop breathing due to 17paralysis of the diaphragm and lungs. Finally, Potassium Chloride is injected, stopping the heart.

Since 1976, many prisoners have been executed by lethal injection in the United States. Lethal injection is now the most common method of execution in the United States in regard to all the 66 executions carried out during 2001 being by this method. Of the 749 executions in America upto 2000, 586 have been carried out by lethal injection, including those of seven women. China also reported 8 executions by lethal injection during 2000.

Lethal injection was first considered as a means of execution in 1888 when New York's J. Mount Bleyer MD put it forward in an article in the Medico-Legal Journal suggesting that the intra-venous injection of six grains of Morphine should be used for execution of death sentence. The idea did not catch on and New York introduced the electric chair instead ( Based on the findings of the New York Commission of Inquiry 1888). It was again put forward in 1977 by Dr. Stanley Deutsch, who at the time chaired the Anaesthesiology Department of Oklahoma University Medical School.

In response to a call by an Oklahoma State senator Bill Dawson for a cheaper alternative to repairing the State's derelict electric chair, Deutsch described a way to administer drugs through an intravenous drip so as to cause death rapidly and without pain. Deutsch wrote to the Senator Bill Dawson "Having been anaesthetised on several occasions with ultra shortacting barbiturates and having administered these drugs for approximately 20 years, I can assure you that this is a rapid, pleasant way of producing unconsciousness". And Oklahoma thus became the first State in the U.S.A. to legislate for it in 1977.

Texas introduced similar legislation later in the same year to replace its electric chair and carried out the first execution by the method of lethal injection on December 7, 1982 18when Charles Brooks was put to death for the murder. It will be relevant here to mention the observation of this execution procedure. The procedure began at 12.07 a.m. He was certified dead at 12.16 a.m. There was no apparent problem and Brooks seemed to die quite easily. At first he raised his head, clenched his fist and seemed to yawn or gasp before passing into unconsciousness. 36 American States now use lethal injection either as their sole method or as an option to one of the traditional methods.

These are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

The Philippines has also decided to use lethal injection for future executions to replace the electric chair and carried out its first execution since 1976 when Leo Echegaray was put to death for child rape on February 4, 1999 and 6 more men have been executed by this method by the end of 2000. Guatemala has also switched to lethal injection after a botched firing squad execution in 1996 and carried out three executions since then. China also has been experimenting with lethal injection although most executions continue to be by shooting. The present trend thus seems to be that of favoring execution by lethal injection.



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