Ohio Must Change Lethal Injection Drugs

Yesterday, Ohio Judge James Burge ruled that the state’s method of putting a prisoner to death is unconstitutional because two of the three drugs used for the injection can cause “an agonizing and painful death.” The decision means that Ohio must stop using the two risky drugs, pancuronium bromide (pavulon), a paralytic which has been outlawed by veterinarians, as well as potassium chloride, which stops the heart and can cause excruciating pain if the inmate is not properly anesthetized.

The Judge ordered that the state use only a single, anesthetic drug. State officials were reviewing the decision in order to determine if they will appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Tennessee uses the same drug cocktail in its current protocol, which has also been successfully challenged in Federal Court by death row inmate Edward Jerome Harbison. In the Harbison case, Judge Aleta Trauger issued a blistering opinion finding that the Tennessee Department of Correction was “deliberately indifferent” about the risks of the lethal injection protocol. The state filed an appeal, and the Sixth Circuit stayed Harbison’s execution scheduled for the fall of 2007.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court in the recent Baze vs. Rees decision did not find Kentucky’s current protocol to be unconstitutional, Tennessee’s protocol is slightly different with findings in the trial court specific to Tennessee, and therefore, is still being litigated.

The Ohio Judge’s ruling only reaffirmed what many of us already know: there is indeed a substantial risk of excruciating pain an suffering with the continued use of this three drug cocktail which absolutely violates one’s constitutional right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment.

This issue is not one which will be going away anytime soon as long as the state continues to seek a “humane” way to take a person’s life.

How much time and money are we willing to spend in deciding how to kill people when the more pressing question is: Why do we kill people who kill people to demonstrate that killing people is wrong?

Read more about the decision here.

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