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Controversial Execution In Ohio Uses New Lethal Drug Combination 1038

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "CNN reports that Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire appeared to gasp and convulse for roughly 10 minutes before he finally died during his execution by lethal injection using a new combination of drugs. The new drugs were used because European-based manufacturers banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions — among them, Danish-based Lundbeck, which manufactures pentobarbital. The state used a combination of the drugs midazolam, a sedative, and the painkiller hydromorphone, the state corrections department told CNN. In an opinion piece written for CNN earlier this week, a law professor noted that McGuire's attorneys argued he would 'suffocate to death in agony and terror.' 'The state disagrees. But the truth is that no one knows exactly how McGuire will die, how long it will take or what he will experience in the process,' wrote Elisabeth A. Semel, clinic professor of law and director of the Death Penalty Clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law. According to a pool report from journalists who witnessed the execution, the whole process took more than 15 minutes, during which McGuire made 'several loud snorting or snoring sounds.' Allen Bohnert, a public defender who lead McGuire's appeal to stop his execution in federal court on the grounds that the drugs would cause undue agony and terror, called the execution process a 'failed experiment' and said his office will look into what happened. 'The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled by what took place here today in their name.'"
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Controversial Execution In Ohio Uses New Lethal Drug Combination

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  • by stox ( 131684 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:45PM (#45991475) Homepage

    I don't know what is then.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by i kan reed ( 749298 )

      The phrasing in the 8th amendment is "cruel and unusual" FYI, and I'm pretty sure a court will find a stay of executions necessary until a new method is devised.

    • by newcastlejon ( 1483695 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:54PM (#45991629)

      Why not simply shoot them? I'm staunchly against the death penalty myself, but if you must do it then at least make it quick.

      Of course, putting a bullet in someone's head might make the people invited to watch the event just a tad squeamish...

      • by Razed By TV ( 730353 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:06PM (#45991821)
        Suffocation through nitrogen is the answer. The body doesn't build up CO2 (which is the cause of unpleasantness when holding ones breath). Pain free execution.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
          gas chambers of all types are dangerous, if you make it totally painless/sansationless you also make it a hazard for workers if the system malfunctions.

          a fixed aim bench rifle of sufficient bore directly to the head would be a 100% effective and 100% painless execution, so long as the muzzle velocity is such that the brain is destroyed faster than a nerve impulse travels (approximately 60 mph iirc) it would be physically impossible to perceive any pain

          or we could just make life without parole the top poss
          • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:30PM (#45992209)

            The person you're responding to is discussing "exit bag" systems, a popular method for self-euthanasia.

            Generally speaking someone using an "exit bag" (google for yourself) will leave a polite note on the door in case of leakage, since they probably won't be alive later to turn off the knob on the gas tank, but in any controlled setting, a respirator-type mask would do the trick wonderfully.

            A colorant or odorant could be easily added for operant safety, but it's not any more dangerous for the operator than, say, dental gasses.

          • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:52PM (#45992583)

            gas chambers of all types are dangerous, if you make it totally painless/sansationless you also make it a hazard for workers if the system malfunctions.

            Except that while hydrogen cyanide execution is lethal because of its presence (making it dangerous for people around if it escapes), suffocation in nitrogen is lethal because of oxygen's absence. You have to try hard to keep the oxygen out. If the 100% nitrogen escapes from the small chamber, all it does is that it mixes with the 80% of nitrogen in the large surrounding volume that is already there!

          • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @08:06PM (#45993489)

            gas chambers of all types are dangerous,

            Nitrogen doesn't need a "gas chamber". Just a mask and reservoir bag (aka non-rebreather mask). Cost: $20 for the disposable mask. A few bucks per cubic metre for high-grade nitrogen. (I'd also add a bubbler to remove any odours, and warm and humidify the gas.)

            a fixed aim bench rifle of sufficient bore directly to the head

            Judging from bolt-guns at slaughterhouses, there's an error rate. And the result of an error is nasty. (Whereas if the nitrogen doesn't work, it just doesn't work.)

            This is the problem with all methods of execution. The guillotine sometimes wouldn't cut all the way through. The noose wouldn't break their neck (or the rope would break). The cyanide wouldn't release properly. The electric chair wouldn't make proper contact through the skin, burning them alive instead of instantly electrocuting them. And sometimes the anaesthetic doses for lethal injection go wrong, so the person wakes up as the kill-you-horribly part is injected; or they use the wrong drugs. This the advantage of nitrogen, anything less than a kill is benign.

            or we could just make life without parole the top possible penalty and save a ton of money AND make errors more reversible

            Or that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:48PM (#45991521)

    So ignoring for a minute all the ethical questions etc, just thinking about the process. I do not have medical training, but I have always wondered why they can't just use the drugs used for general anesthetic in general surgeries? Put someone under with those, then you can stop their heart painlessly when they're unconscious. Certainly there is a large supply of those drugs around.

    Hasn't this been a solved problem for a hundred years or so?

    • by Swarley ( 1795754 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:11PM (#45991895)

      Exactly this. I'm only a second year med student and even I could tell you that trying to kill someone with the mixture of drugs in the summary would be a really ugly process. I'm pretty sure we can't use propofol for the same reason we can't use the pentobarbital mentioned in the summary, but honestly a regular dose of propofol to knock someone unconscious plus a pneumatic piston like we use to humanely kill food animals would be the obvious option. Sure it makes a bigger mess, but it's WAY more humane for the person being executed, the one who were trying to protect from unnecessary cruelty and suffering. Propofol plus guillotine works well too. As it turns out medical science knows a lot more about reliably making people unconscious with drugs than about reliably killing them with drugs. Given that, if the killing is to happen, it should be done with something we know works reliably and quickly.

    • by chowdahhead ( 1618447 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:28PM (#45992161)
      You're not far off the mark. For short OR procedures, fentanyl is preferred because the onset is faster and the duration is shorter, but hydromorphone can be used. Midazolam is used in conjunction for it's sedative and amnetic properties. This is also still a common combination when patients are mechanically vented. Patients lose complete orientation to what's happening to them before they lose consciousness. The observers' perception that he "suffered" is very unlikely to be the case.
    • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

      Yeah, that was the whole point of why they had to change the drugs:

      The new drugs were used because European-based manufacturers banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions — among them, Danish-based Lundbeck, which manufactures pentobarbital (pentobarbital being the "general anesthetic in general surgeries").

      An old post on that exact topic was even referenced in TFA, but to provide it again []

  • QA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timdingo ( 1922214 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:49PM (#45991547)
    I guess I should be appalled, but.. the dude slaughtered a pregnant girl; I don't care how he died exactly at all. In fact, I'm going to consider this a successful QA test and move on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I guess I should be appalled, but.. the dude slaughtered a pregnant girl; I don't care how he died exactly at all.
      In fact, I'm going to consider this a successful QA test and move on.

      Well then you're a fucking barbarian.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:51PM (#45991571)

    If we want the death penalty to be a deterrent against crime, potential criminals should have to face a death that's scary, and not expect a painless injection that lets them quietly pass away.

    Though I question the value of any death penalty as a deterrent since it's so rarely applied and the criminal either thinks he's going to get away with it or isn't worried about the consequences no matter what the consequences are -- 5 years in prison and then death might be even more attractive to some than a lifetime in prison.

    • by Whorhay ( 1319089 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:23PM (#45992069)

      My principle reason for wanting a painless and relatively low stress execution method is that we have an imperfect justice system. Which means we periodically commit murder in the name of executing criminals. Other than some sense of vindication we as a society gain very little from a condemned persons suffering. So in the event of an innocent person being put to death I would at the least hope that there last few minutes of life are not spent in agonizing pain.

      So far as deterance goes I don't think that it really works very well because that only works when people make logical decisions about what they are doing. When murder is involved there is rarely much sound reasoning happening. Additionally I think it makes more sense for such a criminal to meet a quiet ignominous end.

  • How hard can it be? (Score:4, Informative)

    by crow ( 16139 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:51PM (#45991579) Homepage Journal

    How hard can it be to do this? Start with standard general anesthesia. One the person is out, then administer cyanide or whatever.

    Or use the same thing we use for animals.

    Or look at how they do assisted suicide. There are plenty of solutions there.

    • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:38PM (#45992383)

      The general anesthesia that gives the most reliable results, sodium thiopental, happens to be the drug the Dutch won't export. Most general anesthetics aren't capable of guaranteeing, to the extent a court requires, that the subject is unconscious, or of working fast enough, or being administered at the levels required to induce certain unconsciousness without causing toxic side effects- vomiting, convulsions, hallucinations, agonizing pain.

  • by mjperson ( 160131 ) <> on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:55PM (#45991645)

    We have complete understanding of how to knock someone so far out that you can cut into them for hours in an operating room, even to the point of removing their heart for a transplant. Why the heck to people have to go from fully conscious to dead in a single shot? Knock them out completely painlessly, and then kill them while they can feel nothing. I've never understood lethal injections at all!

    • Or do what the Chinese do - put him under general anesthesia and harvest his organs - heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, whatever can be transplanted. Then let the anesthesia effects wear out - he won't feel it. Societal benefit in more ways than one.
      • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:41PM (#45992433)

        I'm all for putting violent animals out of our misery...

        ...but if anyone thinks the Industrial Prison Complex(tm) is a money-making operation now, just think how adding organ harvesting to it will go down.

        An unfortunate reality. In terms Slashdot understands, it's why you don't let your PC technicians take home bad hardware -- suddenly you'd have a lot more "bad" hardware cropping up.

    • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

      Seriously, did NO ONE ACTUALLY READ THE ARTICLE? You are like the 10th person saying the same thing that was not only answered by TFA, it was the whole point of this exercise.

      They used to do exactly what you guys were saying, and use the same drugs that are used in general anesthesia. But for whatever reason US companies willing to sell them to prisons don't make them and the European countries that do have banned the sale. So they tried something they could get, and there you go...

  • by guanxi ( 216397 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:58PM (#45991685)

    I thought testing drugs on humans -- without their informed consent and successful prior testing -- was banned long ago.

    It doesn't matter that the person is a prisoner; in fact the standards are higher for them, because they are much less able to refuse consent. It also doesn't matter that they will die soon; terminally ill patients also must give informed consent.

    What kind of sick society experiments on helpless prisoners?

  • by nblender ( 741424 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:00PM (#45991713)

    Since innocent people end up on death-row and are frequently exonnerated by DNA or new evidence, then how can it be logical to maintain a death penalty? If you're going to say "well, maybe .1% of the time an innocent person is put to death but it's for the greater good", then how about you line up to be the next .1%?

    • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:31PM (#45992223)

      Good John Adams quote relative to this point:

      It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, "whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection," and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.

      It's just a rewording of Blackstone's ratio, but it makes the point really clear.

    • And is it really for the greater good that we actually kill them? We sink more money into killing a person than we do keeping them alive, incarcerated.

      The only real result of the death penalty seems to be deterrence and revenge catharsis.

  • Stupidity... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:06PM (#45991819)
    I know I will be bombarded by right wing-nuts and tough love justice advocates (cold fjord are you here?), but does anyone not see the ridiculous hypocrisy of the death penalty?

    You are not allowed to kill, but it okay for us to kill you.

    I won't get into the fiscal debate as to whether it is cheaper to lock away someone for life or to execute with multiple appeals and proceedings. It shouldn't matter. If it is wrong to take a life, then it is wrong to take it in any circumstance. End of story. Then when you factor in the fact that we are constantly finding innocent people convicted (if not for death penalty offenses). Often due to poor representation, over zealous prosecutors, or shoddy politically or financially motivated police and forensic work, it would seem to me that the ethical cost of killing one innocent person would outweigh all of it. Even if our judicial system was perfect, humans make errors.

    However, as with so much else in our society, our desire for vicarious retribution, our poor ability to truly judge relative risk, and the fear peddled by those in power to keep you caged keep winning.

  • by turgid ( 580780 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:16PM (#45991993) Journal

    ...Like another wrong!

    Go for it, America, show us how it's done. You lead the world.

  • Personal Beliefs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:24PM (#45992095) Homepage Journal

    I, for one, do not believe the state has a right to take any life, regardless. Besides, if our society wasn't hell-bent on spending billions of dollars to incarcerate non-violent offenders, there would be plenty of cash in the coffers to put every sociopath away for several lifetimes, with money left over.

    That's really all I have to say about this.

  • Lundbeck (Score:5, Informative)

    by olau ( 314197 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:48PM (#45992525) Homepage

    Here in Denmark, Lundbeck has been under fire for their drug being used to kill people. They've tried to defend themselves in various ways, e.g. by casting it as misuse as their drug. But in the end in Denmark the American executions are viewed upon in the same light as the stories you hear of amputations and stoning people to death in the middle east. So the reaction has been as if a company sold convenient stones to be used for said stonings.

    It is sad to see that the outcome is more suffering.

  • by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @08:02PM (#45993455) Homepage
    Thousands of people are put under every day for surgery. Why not use the same tried and proven method of doing that to put the condemned out like a light? Then when he's totally out of it, cut his head off. We still know how to make guillotines, don't we? And when the French were using those to kill people, the ones being killed were wide awake.

    An added benefit is that it might just get the attention of some politicians.

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