Analysis: The Paradox Of Humanely Conducting Death Penalty Executions

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— Officials in the state of Oklahoma are investigating a botched death-row inmate’s execution that happened Tuesday. The incident has been widely criticized with even the White House making the announcement that the incident fell below humane standards.

Officials halted Clayton Lockett’s execution Tuesday when he convulsed violently and tried to lift his head after a doctor declared him unconscious. He later died of an apparent heart attack.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin told reporters she stands behind the death penalty, but ordered an independent review of her state’s execution procedures and protocol.

Analysis: The Paradox Of Humanely Conducting Death Penalty Executions

KCBS Radio

KCBS interviewed Stanford Law professor Robert Weisberg and brought up the humane issue.

“Not to be crude about it,” said anchor Rebecca Corral, “but when you put down an animal they put in an IV and sedate the animal so that the animal is really out,” she questioned why the same precautions aren’t taken in cases of legally sanctioned euthanasia or executions of humans.

Weisberg observed that it is interesting that there’s a way of carrying out the process “humanely” with animals, but that the chemistry doesn’t seem to have transferred well to human beings.

“Most states use the unfortunately-named three-drug cocktail consisting of a sedative, a muscle relaxant, and a heart-stopping drug.”

The exact timing of when the drug kicks in seems to be difficult to work out in humans, he explained.

It was reported that people explained Lockett’s execution as chaotic and that when he sat up he was even able to utter some words including; ‘something’s wrong’.

“In this case the inmate is dead anyway. I doubt that there will be lawsuits, but there is going to be a lot of political discussion,” Weisberg said.

Doctors don’t generally participate in executions because it violates the Hippocratic Oath, he said.

“It’s really just an incredibly messy situation, which Oklahoma handled with an unusual degree of incompetence. Very few other countries execute. They’re countries we would not want to compare ourselves to very much. Often, they use hanging or firing squads or methods, which we just don’t use in the U.S. anymore.”

Weisberg concluded that the death penalty is a highly paradoxical situation in that as a society, we condone it, but then we say it has to be done humanely.

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