As recently reported by the Tennessean, executed inmates in Tennessee may not be properly anesthetized during their executions, meaning there is a risk that they are conscious and experience a death similar to being buried alive.
Stephen West’s execution was stayed pending the outcome of a hearing to determine whether or not the current lethal injection protocol risks violating an inmate’s 8th Amendment right not to be subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.” West’s execution is currently scheduled for November 30 at 10:00 p.m.
At issue is the level of the anesthetic agent, sodium thiopental, in the bodies of Tennessee inmates who were executed under this protocol. Particularly, the autopsy results for Steve Henley, executed on February 4, 2009, showed that the level of sodium thiopental was not enough to ensure unconsciousness when he was executed. Furthermore, Henley turned blue, followed by deeper shades of purple, indicating that he was suffocating.
Sadly, the family and friends of Wanda and Shelia Romines are now forced to endure more waiting and more painful testimony as this hearing proceeds. The reality of the death penalty is that instead of bringing “closure” to these already traumatized families, the protracted process only drags families through more pain and more hurt as they wait for executions to be carried out. If Stephen West had received life without parole at his trial, the state would not have spent the millions of dollars in resources, energy, and time fighting over his sentence and now lethal injection. Stephen West’s name would not be in the news today, and the Romines’ family could have tried to moved forward as best they could, without having to relive this nightmare over and over again.
The other painful part of these hearings is that for the families of Robert Coe, Philip Workman, and Steve Henley, reading about the possibility of their loved ones suffering a horrific death by suffocation, retraumatizes them as well. But, unlike the victims’ family members who are given permission–as well they should be–to voice their pain, the families of the executed suffer in silence and often alone as there is no outpouring from the community about what they have been through.
Some will say that these men deserved their deaths and worse, but their families did not. And yet, it is their families who suffer now and not the perpetrators of these crimes.
I pray for a day in Tennessee when we no longer have to spend time and resources discussing how to kill people, if they suffer, how much they suffer, if some suffering is okay, etc., and instead, we can focus our attention and energy where it should be focused–on the surviving families of the murder victims who need emotional, spiritual, and financial help in the wake of a murder as well as on the root causes of violence and how to prevent more violence in the future.
Picture by hitthatswitch
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