Ohio’s Rush to Resume Killing

December 7, 2009

UPDATE:  Kenneth Biros was executed by Ohio’s new, untested, one-drug method.  It took the execution team about 30 minutes to find a vein; once the drug was administered, death occurred in about 10 minutes.

December 7, in addition to being Pearl Harbor Day, is the day when, 27 years ago, Texas became the first state to kill a prisoner with lethal injection. Since then there have been over one thousand lethal injections in the US, all using the same basic three-drug protocol.  Tomorrow morning, barring intervention from a court, Ohio will change that.

Kenneth Biros is scheduled to be the first inmate put to death by a one-drug lethal injection protocol.  The drug is sodium thiopental, aka Sodium Pentothal (its Abbot Laboratories name), an anesthetic which, if taken in a massive dose, will cause death (though it will take longer than the three-drug method).  In smaller doses it’s also famous, or infamous, as a dubious “truth serum.”

Lawyers for Biros argue that this one drug approach, which was developed on the fly in the aftermath of the botched Romell Broom execution on September 30, has not been adequately examined or tested and that using it now amounts to human experimentation.

Amnesty International views all executions, but whatever method, as inherently cruel, but it is worth pointing out that Ohio’s problems with lethal injection – struggling or being unable to find usable veins – have not been addressed by this new protocol, which still calls for the drug to be injected intravenously.  There is a backup, Ohio has assured everyone, involving the injection of two different chemicals directly into a muscle:  who is going to do that, and what sort of training they have been given in the last month or two, is unclear.  Doctors in Ohio have consistently refused to participate in executions.

There is no need for Ohio to rush into this – indeed there is no need for Ohio to kill prisoners at all.  But at the very least, Governor Strickland should declare a moratorium on executions to allow time for a thorough review of these new methods of state killing.