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Supreme Court Rules Lethal Injection Not ‘Cruel and Unusual Punishment’

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that the drugs Oklahoma uses for lethal injection do not violate the Eighth Amendment barring 'cruel and unusual punishment.' (Image: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that the drugs Oklahoma uses for lethal injection do not violate the Eighth Amendment barring 'cruel and unusual punishment.' (Image: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that the drugs Oklahoma uses for lethal injection do not violate the Eighth Amendment barring “cruel and unusual punishment.” The ruling was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas voting with the majority.

“Our first ground for affirmance is based on petitioners’ failure to satisfy their burden of establishing that any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and available alternative method of execution,” Alito wrote.

Court rules on the use of lethal injection drug:

“We also affirm for a second reason: The District Court did not commit clear error when it found that midazolam is highly likely to render a person unable to feel pain during an execution.

“Finally, we find it appropriate to respond to the principal dissent’s groundless suggestion that our decision is tantamount to allowing prisoners to be ‘drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake.’ That is simply not true, and the principal dissent’s resort to this outlandish rhetoric reveals the weakness of its legal arguments.”

Justices Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented.

Sotomayor criticized the majority opinion, writing that it “leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.”

In a Supreme Court blog, Kent Scheidegger wrote: “As part of its lethal injection protocol for executions, Oklahoma uses a sedative called midazolam, which is used to treat anxiety, to make the inmate unconscious. Two other drugs then paralyze him and stop his heart. A group of Oklahoma death-row inmates have challenged the state’s use of midazolam, arguing that it cannot reliably render an inmate unconscious.”

Explaining the Supreme Court ruling on lethal injection:

He added: “The difference between midazolam and other drugs (like pentobarbitol) is that it’s not a barbiturate. So the inmates’ argument was that it wouldn’t cause the sort of deep coma that would prevent pain later in the execution procedure.”

According to C&EN: “Historically, the standard lethal injection protocol involved three compounds administered to the convict in sequence. The first was thiopental sodium, an anesthetic that depresses central nervous system activity and would render the condemned person unconscious. It was followed by pancuronium bromide, which inhibits muscle contraction and stops breathing. The final compound was potassium chloride, an electrolyte that stops the heart.

Drug linked to botched execution is constitutional:

“In three executions involving midazolam last year, prisoners showed signs of consciousness, including writhing and gasping, according to eyewitness reports. If the prisoner is not unconscious, then he or she would experience suffocation from the pancuronium and burning from the potassium chloride. Pancuronium’s paralytic effects mean that after the compound is administered, it becomes difficult to tell whether a person is adequately anesthetized,” C&EN added.

What are your thoughts on lethal injections? I’m not a supporter of them. But I also do not have the answer for what else to do either.

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