On Friday California and Florida halted all lethal injections after Federal Judge Jeremy Fogel decided that the method used in CA is unconstitutional. Last week in Florida the execution of Angel Diaz took over 30 minutes because executioners put the IV into the flesh on his arm rather than into a vein. Earlier this year the execution in CA of Stanley “Tookie” Williams was also botched when back up IVs weren’t connected. Of course lethal injection is used in many states because it’s supposed to be “more humane” than the electric chair but because of weak oversight and varying methods it’s received quite a bit of criticism. The wikipedia article on the practice cites the possibility of the prisoner being aware throughout the procedure as the biggest problem:
Opponents argue that the thiopental is an ultra-short acting barbiturate that may wear off (anesthesia awareness) and lead to consciousness and an excruciatingly painful death wherein the inmate is unable to express their pain because they have been rendered paralyzed by the paralytic agent.
Opponents point to the fact that sodium thiopental is typically used as an induction agent and not used in the maintenance phase of surgery because of its short acting nature. Following the administration of thiopental, pancuronium bromide, is given, to which opponents argue that it not only dilutes the thiopental, but masks any pain when the thiopental wears off since the patient is paralyzed.
Additionally, opponents argue that the method of administration is also flawed. They state that since the personnel administering the lethal injection lack expertise in anesthesia the risk of failing to induce unconsciousness is greatly increased. Also, they argue that the dose of sodium thiopental must be customized to each individual patient, not restricted to a set protocol. Finally, the remote administration results in an increased risk that insufficient amounts of the lethal injection drugs enter the bloodstream.
As far as California goes, Fogel said that “At the present time, however, defendants’ implementation of California’s lethal-injection protocol lacks both reliability and transparency” and that it is currently a violation of the eighth amendment and is “intolerable under the Constitution.”