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Report No. 187

Execution in Different States

Lethal injection protocols ( which are confidential in nature ) vary from State to State. Typically the prisoner is strapped to a gurney (which is a wheeled hospital style trolley bed) or a fixed execution table rather like an operating theatre table by leather or webbing straps over the body and legs. His bare arms are strapped to boards projecting from the sides of the gurney. Trained technicians then insert a catheter into a vein in each arm, a process that sounds much simpler than it often is.

Once the catheters are in place tubes carrying saline solution are connected to the catheter ends and the prisoner is either wheeled into the execution chamber or the curtains surrounding it are drawn back to allow the witnesses to see the procedure. When the condemned person has made any final statement the prison warden gives the signal for the execution to begin and the technician(s), hidden from view behind a two way mirror begins to manually inject the three chemicals comprising typically 1.- 50 cc of Sodium thiopental, 1.- 50 cc of Pavulon (the generic name for Pancuronium bromide) and 1.- 50 cc of Potassium chloride.

There is a short interval between each chemical during which saline solution is injected to clean the vein and prevent any chemical reaction which could block it. Typically the actual injections will take from three to five minutes to complete. Sodium thiopental is a short acting barbiturate which causes unconsciousness quite quickly. Pavulon is a muscle relaxant that paralyses the diaphragm and thus arrests 21breathing whilst Potassium chloride finishes the job by causing cardiac arrest.

In most cases the prisoner is unconscious in about a minute after the Sodium thiopental has been injected and is dead in around eight minutes, with no obvious signs of physical suffering. In some States, a fully automated lethal injection machine is used that runs off a 12 volt battery. It injects the chemicals in the right order and amount once the catheters are in place.

The machine has six syringes activated by mechanical plungers. Three syringes hold the lethal drugs; the other three contain harmless saline solution. Two buttons control the machine, one for the lethal syringes and one for the identical looking harmless ones. The two executioners each press a button and the syringes release the drugs into the vein. The condemned prisoner thus is put to death while in sleep by this swift and painless method.



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