Lethal injection is the most common way people are legally put to death in the USA. To be exact, this method has been used to kill 788 of the 956 men and women who have been executed in the USA since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court. Lethal injection is supposed to be humane, and thus not in violation of the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment proscription against “cruel and unusual” punishment. Indeed, compared with electrocution, gas, gunFre, or hanging, killing people with drugs seems almost humane. Typically, the condemned man or woman is strapped to a chair or trolley. Two intravenous lines are inserted, one as a back up. The lines are kept open with saline solution. Then, at the warden’s signal, the injection team administers: Frst, sodium thiopental to induce anaesthesia, then pancuronium bromide to cause paralysis, and Fnally a bolus of potassium chloride to bring about cardiac arrest. It seems so clinical and clean. However, in a fast-track Research Letter in this week’s Lancet , Leonidas Koniaris and co-workers report that these killings may not be as free from cruelty as death-penalty proponents claim. The research team obtained information from Virginia and Texas, where since 1976 nearly half of the executions in the USA have been done. Among the facts they learned were that neither state has
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