"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Friday, May 1, 2015

'It's problematic': inventor of US lethal injection reveals death penalty doubts

Dr Jay Chapman sought to develop a more humane method of execution but miscarriages of justice leave him ambivalent about capital punishment

Dr Jay Chapman, the pathologist who invented the lethal injection that has been the dominant execution protocol in the US for 40 years, says he has growing doubts about the death penalty in the wake of mounting evidence of wrongful convictions.

Chapman, 75, said that he had revised his view of capital punishment despite having been the architect of the lethal injection in 1977. “I am ambivalent about the death penalty – there have been so many incidents of prosecutorial misconduct, or DNA testing that has proved a prisoner’s innocence. It’s problematic.”

The forensic pathologist, who still practises in Sonoma County, California, was speaking to the Guardian on the eve of a landmark hearing at the US supreme court in Washington on Wednesday. The case will see the court’s nine justices come together for the first time since 2008 to consider whether the present-day practice of executions meets the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual treatment.

In 2008, in Baze v Rees, the justices ruled that the triple lethal injection – the protocol devised by Chapman – was constitutional. But since then the widely deployed three-ingredient cocktail of anaesthetic, muscle relaxant and potassium to stop the prisoner’s heart has been thrown into disarray as a result of a European-led boycott of medical sales to US corrections departments.

As supplies of the lethal drugs have run out, death penalty states have turned to increasingly maverick alternatives to fill the gap. Some have purchased medicines unlawfully from abroad, others have ordered them from scarcely regulated compounding pharmacies, and many have turned to pharmaceuticals previously unused in death chambers.

In his Guardian interview, Chapman said midazolam “would not be my drug of choice”. He said that its properties were such that it could be taken in relatively large doses before reaching lethal levels.

In other words, it was paradoxically precisely because midazolam is considered relatively safe in medical situations that it is regarded as dangerous as a lethal injection drug. Midazolam could expose prisoners to very long executions or to the risk of pain if they were not put into a coma-like condition.

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Source: The Guardian, Ed Pilkington, April 29, 2015

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