Join 3,421 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The eyes of Texas are upon you
May 12, 2014 2:46 PM   Subscribe

The Gold Standard in Executions.
For two years now, Texas has used a single drug, the barbiturate pentobarbital, instead of the three-drug regimen used in neighboring Oklahoma. Prison administrators from other states often travel to Texas to learn how it performs lethal injections and to observe executions. Texas officials have provided guidance and, on at least a few occasions, carried out executions for other states.
posted by four panels (101 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Texas officials have provided guidance and, on at least a few occasions, carried out executions for other states.

Why is this surprising? After all, the name Texas comes from the Native American word tejas, which means friend.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:57 PM on May 12 [9 favorites]


By now they are probably also have fairly advanced programmes to reduce the number of murders also, aiming to address their underlying causes with a view to stopping the deaths of both victims and offenders.

Still not sure why they don't just put a grenade in the guy's mouths then pull the pin and run away. Backward fucks.
posted by biffa at 3:00 PM on May 12


"When you do something a lot, you get good at it,” he said, adding archly, “I think Texas probably does it as well as Iran."

David R. Dow, you are an amazing person.
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:07 PM on May 12 [29 favorites]


Texas has 502 executions since 1976. The next highest are Virginia (110) and Oklahoma (105). Everyone else is below 100. Of course they're good at state-sanctioned murder. They've had the most practice.

Worldwide, we are in illustrious company. Fourth behind Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia for most executions in 2012. Pinnacles of justice and civilization, every one.
posted by zarq at 3:08 PM on May 12 [7 favorites]


You know that thing where people give you career advice and they tell you to follow your passion and then work as hard as possible at it? That, but for a state.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:08 PM on May 12 [7 favorites]


The Texacution state.
posted by breadbox at 3:09 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]


State-sponsored terrorism.
posted by Pudhoho at 3:12 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


State-sponsored terrorism.

As though murdering some in the hopes of affecting the behavior of others would be considered terrorism.
posted by mr. digits at 3:14 PM on May 12 [21 favorites]


I once played with a band called The Texecutioners. I think I liked them better than the real thing.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 3:15 PM on May 12


As though murdering some in the hopes of affecting the behavior of others would be considered terrorism.

That pretty much sums up terrorism.
posted by Pudhoho at 3:16 PM on May 12


So...Does Texas manufacture the pentobarbital itself? According to the Wikipedia page for pentobarbital, there is only one maker of injectable pentobarbital approved for sale in the US, Netherlands-based Lundbeck, and they've forbidden its sale for use in executions.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:17 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


That pretty much sums up terrorism.

Almost as though I were being sarcastic, no?
posted by mr. digits at 3:18 PM on May 12 [7 favorites]


With this bunch I never know.
posted by Pudhoho at 3:18 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


I was in Nashville about two years ago, speaking with some of the COs who worked on death row. The state had suspended executions because of the drug embargo. I asked them about Texas continuing to do executions during that time, and they basically stated that they considered Tennessee to be a more civilized administrator of the death penalty than Texas. Which was my first confrontation with the heirarchy of ethics in the death business.

Then, last fall, they ended up adopting Texas's method anyway. I would be surprised if basically every other state didn't follow suit at this point.
posted by likeatoaster at 3:23 PM on May 12


That being said, if I had to be executed, I'd rather it happen in Texas. And if I could choose the manner of my execution, it would be meat poisoning, from Tex Mex cuisine, while listening to a live performance of Willie Nelson and Michael Nesmith.

They may have mastered a one-drug execution, but I reckon I'd want to go out with real Texas style.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:24 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


Of course, I'm in Omaha, and so I'll probably end up beaten to death outside a Council Bluffs dive bar by the five-year-old son of a meth-dealer/City Council member while Conor Oberst watches and weeps.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:27 PM on May 12 [10 favorites]


Fourth behind Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia for most executions in 2012.

Ironic, when you think about which political faction is the one that's completely obsessed with the alleged "creeping onset" of Sharia law.
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:28 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


So...Does Texas manufacture the pentobarbital itself?

from likeatoaster's link:
The supply shortage has forced Ohio and Texas to look at alternative drugs or to compounding pharmacies to make pentobarbital from scratch. Texas earlier this month paid a compounding pharmacy to make pentobarbital, but the company asked for the drugs back when it was outed as a supplier for lethal injection drugs. Texas is now mulling over yet another switch, to propofol, a powerful anesthetic.
posted by p3on at 3:32 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Relatedly, this article discusses that some states (Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, Missouri) have passed laws allowing them to withhold information concerning what drugs are used to administer the death penalty, and where the state is getting those drugs.
posted by likeatoaster at 3:38 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Can't we just kill people by overdosing them on marijuana?
posted by ryoshu at 3:39 PM on May 12 [14 favorites]


Relatedly, this article discusses that some states (Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, Missouri) have passed laws allowing them to withhold information concerning what drugs are used to administer the death penalty, and where the state is getting those drugs.

Socialists. They should publicize that information and let the market decide whether those companies should remain in business.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:40 PM on May 12 [13 favorites]


How are the bodies disposed of after execution in Texas? Is there a potter's field of pine boxes, or are they all cremated? Perhaps in a dedicated facility of large, gas-fed ovens; something industrial in nature, leaving no reside to speak of.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:41 PM on May 12


How are the bodies disposed of after execution in Texas? Is there a potter's field of pine boxes, or are they all cremated? Perhaps in a dedicated facility of large, gas-fed ovens; something industrial in nature, leaving no reside to speak of.

Composting?
posted by kafziel at 3:41 PM on May 12


According to this unclaimed prisoner bodies, including those who were executed, are buried at the Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery.
posted by localroger at 3:47 PM on May 12


Texas is scheduled to execute another inmate tomorrow (May 13). KPFT Houston will have their usual coverage from the death unit.
posted by planetesimal at 3:58 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


The entire point of lethal injection is not to give the person subject to it a pain free existence. The goal is to make it clean and medical looking. If we wanted to kill people painlessly, we could. But we want executions to be horrible. The documentary How to Kill a Human Being showed this back in 2008. (I highly recommend watching the entire documentary, as much as I might disagree with Michael Portillo on some things, he is excellent in this.)

Hell, we've known how to kill people painlessly for over 2000 years. Socrates' hemlock, at least according to Plato was a creeping chill, but not actually painful.

People do not care about cruel and unusual punishment. They just want things to look neat and modern and efficient.
posted by Hactar at 3:59 PM on May 12 [15 favorites]


The availability clusterfuck is a really amusing coda to an otherwise rather depressing side of American law.

The companies that make these drugs have every right, for damn good reasons they have paid well to have enshrined in law, to determine how their drugs are used. Nobody wants to be told by the nice anesthesiologist that they're going to be put under with the same drug their state uses to kill people. (Frankly, I was a bit startled to be told that one of the drugs used on me during my recent angiogram was rohypnol, a notorious date rape drug.)

Not that it's all that hard to make a drug like phenobarbitol. But when you hire Walter White to whip up a batch of death cocktail in the prison basement you blow the whole illusion that it's sanitary and medical.

And there is a real sense in which the rituals of Death Row and of the DP process itself are as important as the end result; they are the state's way of asserting its ultimate authority, that only the State has a legitimate claim to kill people, and here we are to demonstrate that power.

And in that sense what these drug companies have done, using rights granted to them for well agreed-upon business reasons which aren't going to change any time soon, is to cut off the henchman's balls and hand them to him. Sure, Mr. State, these executives are saying, you can kill people if you want to, you're the state, go you, but not with our drugs you don't. Go buy a gun like a normal American murderer.

But the State does not want to appear to be a normal American murderer, it must be a vast and omnipotent web of impenetrable forces. And so we have the almost Keystone Kops level comedy of states scrambling to pass laws to let them hide their methods, as if all these cops and lawyers have forgotten that laying plans to hide your criminal theft of someone's patented property is in fact the very definition of a criminal conspiracy.

And in most states, being part of a criminal conspiracy that leads to a death makes you a murderer, potentially subject to the death penalty yourself. But the State has a blind spot to the crimes committed by its own actors.
posted by localroger at 4:03 PM on May 12 [28 favorites]


Stopping the sale of drugs used to execute prisoners is not likely to stop capital punishment in Texas. Huntsville (site of quite a few of our executions) has a museum in which we house the formerly-used electric chair, Old Sparky. My understanding is that electrocution is not illegal, and that a gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad are also legal options.
posted by Houstonian at 4:05 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Hell, we've known how to kill people painlessly for over 2000 years.

Plus, assuming what is taught in industrial safety programs is correct, if the air that one breathes has a sufficient level of carbon monoxide one'll die on the first breath.
posted by mr. digits at 4:05 PM on May 12


I don't understand why they don't just inject cyanide. It should be very fast and very effective.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:07 PM on May 12


My understanding is that electrocution is not illegal, and that a gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad are also legal options.

Exactly. I suspect we will end up seeing some form of asphyxiation by inert gas, which is not as dangeorous to everyone else as carbon monoxide and doesn't create the weird death flush. I suspect the current barrier to that is that it's not "assertive" enough; the victim just kind of goes to sleep, without the dramatic plop of the tablets (in the horribly! unreachable! mechanism under the chair!) and the rising cloud of visible toxic vapor.
posted by localroger at 4:09 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


How are the bodies disposed of after execution in Texas?

If a family will claim the body, then it is given to them for burial. Otherwise, the state pays for their burial and graveside services if the person desired them. They are buried at Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Hunstville.
posted by Houstonian at 4:10 PM on May 12


There are some things my home state is really pretty good at: Frito-based cuisine, for example (1, 2). I wish they'd stick to bragging about that shit, because the rest of it is just plain embarrassing.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:12 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


I don't get why Oklahoma didn't just call up Ask Metafilter to do tech support on their execution difficulties. We are here 24/7 and waiting for your call!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:13 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


They'd already wasted their question for that week with a 'can I eat this?'.
posted by Pudhoho at 4:17 PM on May 12 [15 favorites]


Texas has 502 executions since 1976. The next highest are Virginia (110) and Oklahoma (105). Everyone else is below 100.

I find that OK number astonishing. OK at present is about 1/7 the size of Texas. Presuming rough parity since 1976, OK executes 40% more people per capita than even TX.
posted by hwestiii at 4:26 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]


Whats the overlap/difference between methods used in assisted suicide and in the death penalty? I mean, Oregon for example allows a physician to prescribe a lethal dose for self-administration. Presumably they attempt to avoid pain and suffering (even though in most cases the patient is probably already in pain). Is there a reason they don't use the same drugs?
posted by wildcrdj at 4:28 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Also: has anyone explained why the US can't make its own pentobarbital and has to depend on unsympathetic libruls in Europe for their means of killing prisoners? Surely that's a somewhat implausible blind spot for a technological superpower. Is it made from a natural resource that only occurs in liberal Europe and various hostile rogue states the US is not on speaking terms with? Or was this one of those unintended-consequences-of-outsourcing failures, where, at some time in the Reagan era, some guy in a suit got paid a lot for selling off all the chemical manufacturers, and everyone assumed that the invisible hand of the free market would make everything work out?
posted by acb at 4:31 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Whats the overlap/difference between methods used in assisted suicide and in the death penalty?

I suspect most assisted suicides go to sleep on an overdose of a barbituate like phenobarbitol or an opiate like morphine. The drug companies are less likely to take offense at their products being used for something that's voluntary for the person getting the drug, and which doesn't have the whole state sponsor spectacle around it.

has anyone explained why the US can't make its own pentobarbital

They would lose the illusion that they are doing a clean medical thing if they were getting their supply from Walter White instead of a source approved by the FDA for use on patients who are supposed to survive.
posted by localroger at 4:35 PM on May 12


> How are the bodies disposed of after execution in Texas?

From what I learned listening to the radio coverage I linked earlier, the condemned's body is rushed from the execution unit to a licensed mortuary close to the prison campus. Apparently, there's a tradition at the prison of doing this as quickly as possible so that the family members (who then claim the body as in any death) have a chance to touch the body while there is still some warmth, because they're not allowed physical contact prior to the execution.
posted by planetesimal at 4:36 PM on May 12


Cyanide poisoning can be painful. It can also cause seizures.
posted by zarq at 4:38 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't get the hangup on pentobarbitol. Why not plain old morphine?
posted by GuyZero at 4:38 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Cyanide injections also seem fraught with risk for the executioner. Morphine feels too good for good Puritans to be giving convicted murderers.
posted by planetesimal at 4:40 PM on May 12


That too.
posted by zarq at 4:40 PM on May 12


And the guillotine is too French.
posted by acb at 4:43 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think the part that alarms me most generally is that, like, in my medicine cabinet at this moment I have enough easily-obtainable drugs to kill me, and I have to be careful about which ones I take with which other ones because of that. But there seems to be some sort of opposition to using anything that might have an even vaguely euphoric effect in the moment. It is definitely not enough to just end their lives.
posted by Sequence at 4:43 PM on May 12


Even if you are against capital punishment, facts should be checked and true, right? Hemlock and cyanide are not painless. Pentobarbital is relatively painless, and is one of the drugs used for euthanasia. Bodies in Texas are buried within 24 hours not due to body temperature but as a convenience to the family. And the manufacturing of pentobarbital is not stifled due to a man in a suit in the Reagan era.

Be against death penalty, but don't turn into one people (like you see on Fox News) that spews out weirdness-that-maybe-sounds-like-a-fact-but-it's-not.
posted by Houstonian at 4:45 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


The meat industry has solved this problem. A steel boltgun administers a quick, painless death that guarantees no pain (or euphoria) on the part of the victim subject.

The brain fragments flying across the room might disturb good Christian folks with delicate sensibilities, though.
posted by benzenedream at 4:45 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


If people must continue this barbaric, innocents-killing (and concomitant criminals getting away with shit), morally loathsome and indefensible practice, for God's sake, at least do it quickly and painlessly.

Inert gas seems to be the only way to do it.

But that doesn't give the Americans who support the death penalty what they want. They want to see (a little) suffering (they're not monsters for supporting state executions hamburger), they want to see someone strapped to a table or a chair. They want to see that even in the final moments of a quite possibly innocent person, the State is still in total control of them.

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.

The brain fragments flying across the room might disturb good Christian folks with delicate sensibilities, though.

You mean those people who have Thou Shalt Not Kill as one of the non-negotiable laws? The ones who talk about this dude telling people to turn the other cheek? Render unto Caesar, render unto God. The whole point is that all Christians should be vocally against the death penalty, by their own religious beliefs.

And yet somehow...

Sigh.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:50 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


And the manufacturing of pentobarbital is not stifled due to a man in a suit in the Reagan era.

The State could certainly hire a contractor or their own Walter White to make pentobarbitol. What they could not do is get the result certified by the FDA for use on humans. While it's true that the purpose of that certification is to keep the patients who get the drugs alive, it is also that certification which maintains the fig leaf that the procedure is all clean and medical.
posted by localroger at 4:51 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]


innocents-killing

Hey every now and then we get a guilty one, so I say full steam!
posted by shakespeherian at 4:54 PM on May 12


Probably worth mentioning, the State is also too chickenshit to own up and just make their own death drugs. What they're trying to do in several states is legally hide the identity of the drugs they use so they can continue to acquire them from compounding pharmacies, in direct contravention of legally binding contracts with the original manufacturers but with deniability so the pharmacy can't be held accountable by the manufacturer.
posted by localroger at 4:57 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Whats the overlap/difference between methods used in assisted suicide and in the death penalty? I mean, Oregon for example allows a physician to prescribe a lethal dose for self-administration. Presumably they attempt to avoid pain and suffering (even though in most cases the patient is probably already in pain). Is there a reason they don't use the same drugs?

Physicians in Oregon generally appear to prescribe Secobarbital (or pentobarbital), which is a barbiturate, for oral self-administration. An antiemetic is usually given to be taken first.
posted by zachlipton at 4:58 PM on May 12


Physicians in Oregon generally appear to prescribe Secobarbital (or pentobarbital), which is a barbiturate, for oral self-administration. An antiemetic is usually given to be taken first.

Holy shit. After the second time I was hospitalized for depression, the doctors thought it would be a really good idea to give me Seconal as a sleep aid.

I swallowed an entire bottle--a month's supply--as well as a couple other things.

I am lucky to be alive apparently.

Jesus.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:03 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


I am lucky to be alive apparently.

Without the antiemetic you're very likely to pump your own stomach of such a large overdose by vomiting it up. There is quite a discussion of this in Final Exit.
posted by localroger at 5:09 PM on May 12


I thought the gold standard in executions was the Game of Thrones death by crown of molten gold.
posted by humanfont at 5:11 PM on May 12


Without the antiemetic you're very likely to pump your own stomach of such a large overdose by vomiting it up.

Which apparently I didn't do. Stomach didn't get pumped until I was at the hospital.

Just lucky I guess. Anyway sorry for the derail.

I thought the gold standard in executions was the Game of Thrones death by crown of molten gold.

One imagines that molten metal being poured down one's throat would be slightly painful, and result in a lot of (attempted) screaming and thrashing around. Not sanitized enough for the American public.

(And yes I got your joke I'm just being pedantic today I guess)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:15 PM on May 12


You know that's from real history, right? The Parthians killed Crassus that way.
posted by thelonius at 5:16 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]


How crass.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:26 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]


You know that's from real history, right? The Parthians killed Crassus that way.

I had been under the impression--something I read within the last six months or so--that that was a rather exaggerated tale which grew in the telling, and Crassus was probably just throttled, or possibly choked with gold.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:49 PM on May 12


You know that's from real history, right? The Parthians killed Crassus that way.

My favorite Thing From History are the goblets made from the skulls of enemies.

I think that's legal in Texas, too
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:52 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Yeah the problem with those is you have to make them with the skull upside down otherwise all your wine falls out. And upside-down skulls just somehow aren't quite as imposing, y'know?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:54 PM on May 12


The British got hanging down to a science (and still used regularly in Singapore); if we're serious about this death-penalty stuff we should probably just do that.

The worst that tends to happen in modern long-drop hangings — now that we have ropes that can withstand many, many times the load required — is that somebody will leave a bit too much slack (no photos, just Wikipedia) and you'll end up with a beheading. Which doesn't make it less effective, just somewhat more messy. But it's that squeamishness that led to the unpopularity of long-drop hanging in the US, in favor of unreliable "standard drop" hanging (now used only by the military), the gas chamber and the electric chair — the latter two are by no reasonable standard more humane, but they certainly look better.

Thus the states have painted themselves into a bit of a corner: they want death without anything that might reasonably appear to look like killing. The struggle is not so much to find a reliable or even humane execution method, but really one that meets the aesthetic demands of the modern public.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:58 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


Japan (another one of the few "first world / rich industrialized democracies" that still executes people) uses hanging for their executions still too.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:14 PM on May 12


Yeah, I don't get the hangup on pentobarbitol. Why not plain old morphine?

The problem with using opiates is that different people have radically different tolerances. What might be a fatal dose for one person could just be a pleasant high for another. Figuring out a dose that is invariably fatal is problematic.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:14 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


> Bodies in Texas are buried within 24 hours not due to body temperature but as a convenience to the family.

I'm not sure if you're responding to my comment, but I was speaking to the practice of the Texas prison staff rushing the body to the mortuary for the sake of the family members, not for speedy burial or anything.
posted by planetesimal at 6:18 PM on May 12


otherwise all your wine falls out

Oglaf demonstrates the problem.
posted by localroger at 6:26 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, the problem is simply that no-one is willing to carry out the executions. The last three executioners have resigned before getting around to any lever-pulling.
posted by pompomtom at 6:32 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


planetesimal, I was responding to your comment. The reason the executed are buried so quickly is so that the family does not have to wait the 3+ days that usually passes, and thus incurring more hotel expenses than necessary. It's a consideration for the poor, not so that they can touch a warm body.
posted by Houstonian at 6:32 PM on May 12


Inert gas seems to be the only way to do it.

I never understand this mental block that people get to. This isn't complicated. The human body is fragile, especially compared to the vast energies that we routinely command for all the various industrial processes that are crucial parts of our lives. To my mind the only thing required for a "humane" execution (if such a thing can exist) is that you destroy the central nervous system with something that moves faster than a neural impulse. That's not really that high a bar. Our nerve impulses top out at around 100m/s. We make bullets that go more than 10x that. Shoot him with a cannon. Blow him up with a shaped charge. Drop a 1m*1m*1m cube of iron on him from a height. The possibilities are endless.

All of these things are horrific and would create a disgusting mess and a serious work hazard for the executioners. We require plenty of other laborers to do things that are just as disgusting and/or dangerous, though. As for horrific--being paralyzed so that you cannot scream, and then having your arteries set on fire while a roomful of people watch, unmoving, is horrific.

It seems we are obsessed with preserving the physical integrity of the corpse. Is it just so we can harvest their organs? Am I in a Larry Niven story? At least in his books, the executions were performed by doctors, and everyone got competent anesthesia.
posted by agentofselection at 6:35 PM on May 12 [12 favorites]


Is it just so we can harvest their organs?

Are post-execution organ donations being done against any prisoner's will in the US?
posted by Houstonian at 6:39 PM on May 12


Houstonian, not according to Ray Hill and co who cover the executions. The body is swiftly brought to the next of kin so they can touch it while it is still warm.
posted by planetesimal at 6:43 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Saw my last motion picture, my last baseball game
Heard my last Beatle record, the one Ringo sang
Had my last birthday party, it don't mean a thing
But it kills me to know I won't see you again

posted by hydrophonic at 7:00 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


I think I finally found your citation, planetesimal. "If his loved ones are typical, they are re now rushing to the funeral parlor where his body has been sent so they may touch it while it is still warm." Execution Watch quote on Facebook. Typical has very little to do with the 1965 law.
posted by Houstonian at 7:01 PM on May 12


(Note that the argument is against the no-contact rule for prisoners facing capital punishment; it's not an argument about the amount of time that passes until the body is buried.)
posted by Houstonian at 7:03 PM on May 12


I don't believe the US allows executed prisoners to donate organs at all. Most of the execution methods in use preclude the use of donated organs because of toxicity or damage.
posted by localroger at 7:04 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Or having the possessed arm of a murderer grafted onto your body that then propels you to kill a bunch of people.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 7:15 PM on May 12 [7 favorites]


that then propels you to kill a bunch of people

Well, the Chinese seem to have overcome this difficulty.
posted by localroger at 7:21 PM on May 12


At least in his books, the executions were performed by doctors, and everyone got competent anesthesia.

Doctors in the U.S. generally don't participate in executions because it violates their code of ethics (i.e. "do no harm"). According to wikipedia, the American Board of Anesthesiologists, in particular, will revoke the license of any anesthesiologist who participates in an execution. I think states would prefer to have medical professionals participate, it's just nearly impossible to find any such professionals willing to do the job.
posted by vytae at 7:33 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Which should, you know, say something about the practice.

Doctors won't participate because it violates their oath and ethics. LOOK SHERLOCK A CLUE
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:37 PM on May 12 [18 favorites]


If the idea of execution is to deter people from doing dastardly crimes, and then you have 500 executions in 30-odd years, doesn't that mean execution as a deterrent has failed?
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:08 PM on May 12


They just want things to look neat and modern and efficient.

This cannot be repeated enough.

Here is a simple way to kill someone painlessly for almost no money: put them in a well and flood it with carbon dioxide. A fire-extinguisher full will do the job. You slump and don't wake up. It's considered one of the best ways to kill poultry humanely. People die this way every year in industrial accidents. We know from the near misses that it's completely painless and sneaks up on you.

This is not about a simple method of humane killing. It is about theatre and demonstrating some sort of point or something.
posted by bonehead at 8:20 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]


I don't believe the US allows executed prisoners to donate organs at all. Most of the execution methods in use preclude the use of donated organs because of toxicity or damage.

With all the TB, MRSA, HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis that infects most prisoners subjected to medical treatment called inadequate in the third world, would you really want them?
posted by Talez at 8:21 PM on May 12


I was joking about the organ donation, Larry Niven's books just present a convenient dystopia for comparison. I also am aware that doctors won't participate, but honestly they're not necessary unless you want your executions to look clinical. Which was the point I was trying to make. Killing quickly and painlessly is not that hard. I kill animals as part of my job. From the time the tool touches the animal's skin to the time its central nervous system is functionally obliterated is easily less than 1/2 second. I am not a doctor. If you absolutely have to kill a living creature, the very least you owe your victim is competent technique.

For the record I am also anti-death-penalty. I just think that lethal injections seem like a disingenuous way of killing people. They are trying to pretend that they're not killing a person. Why bother? Everyone knows what's going on. Those in favor of it want the person killed, those against it want it to a) be humane and b) be truthful about what's going on. Who are the people in favor of "clinical" executions?
posted by agentofselection at 9:12 PM on May 12 [7 favorites]


And now everyone thinks I am a serial killer.
posted by agentofselection at 9:15 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Here is a simple way to kill someone painlessly for almost no money: put them in a well and flood it with carbon dioxide. A fire-extinguisher full will do the job. You slump and don't wake up. It's considered one of the best ways to kill poultry humanely. People die this way every year in industrial accidents. We know from the near misses that it's completely painless and sneaks up on you.

For what it's worth, carbon dioxide specifically is what triggers the body into thinking it's asphyxiating. Nitrogen or carbon monoxide, on the other hand, does exactly what you say.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:55 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]


Or having the possessed arm of a murderer grafted onto your body

Well, or that whole looking through Gary Gilmore's eyes thing.
posted by pompomtom at 10:51 PM on May 12


I can see the well idea working as the apparent act of necessary theatre. Have a freestanding pyrex houdini-underwater-escape style box. The surrounding chamber would be well ventilated.

The prisoner is escorted in, and strapped to a chair, the pre-execution ritual is performed. They are winched slowly over the chamber by crane, operated by an executioner wearing an oxygen mask. A container of liquid nitrogen is opened remotely, with the appropriately sinister white smoke as it boils off (while a pipe pumps in nitrogen less obviously, to ensure a more managed control of the gas).

Once the sensors on the tank show sufficiently low oxygen, a big red light turns green. (pure nitrogen is slightly lighter than normal air, but not much, so should stay put for a bit, especially if colder than ambient and you keep pumping it in)

The prisoner, still strapped to his chair, is winched down into the chamber of nitrogen, with oxygen content below 5%, where he passes out in under a minute. A few minutes of hypoxia will kill the brainstem, so leave him in there long enough to be sure. Winch out the body, confirm death, job done.

I think the death penalty is a barbaric relic of medievalist revenge 'justice', and current methods are about appearing to be clinical (no body damage) - while effectively torturing the prisoner to death.

If you must have the state murder people, at least do it humanely. Sticking a nitrogen mask on them for 10 minutes wouldn't appear to have the necessary dramatic flair to it that is demanded.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:39 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


One would think Anonymous would have managed to dox some executioners by now.
posted by anemone of the state at 11:54 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Here is a simple way to kill someone painlessly for almost no money: put them in a well and flood it with carbon dioxide.

I don't know much about poultry, so maybe they have a different breathing drive and that's totally humane, but for a normal person breathing a high concentration of CO2 is really unpleasant. You can basically have the sensation that you are can't breathe, even though you can.

My guess is that CO2 is used to kill poultry because it's the cheapest heavier-than-air asphyxiating gas you can buy. If they have a CO2-based breathing drive it's probably not much fun for them. A true inert gas like argon would probably be better, but argon costs a lot more.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:02 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Turbid Dahlia

An overwhelming number of studies have concluded that capital punishment doesn't deter crime. The issue has been debated here ad infinitum; nevertheless the scientific and statistic evidence show that the death penalty doesn't keep people from murdering one another.
posted by key_of_z at 1:10 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


"The struggle is not so much to find a reliable or even humane execution method, but really one that meets the aesthetic demands of the modern public."

Perfectly said. In the unlikely event that I'm ever in line to be murdered by the state, I would prefer a firing squad. Given proper aim, it's pretty fast and humane. It's harder on the people doing the killing, but I think that's appropriate, given that they're killing somebody. Why lie?

I read somewhere that when they kill someone by lethal injection, they swab the injection area with alcohol first.

The perfect image for a society in utter denial.
posted by crazylegs at 4:15 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


They swab the injection site because rubbing alcohol dilates the blood vessels, making needle insertion easier. Also, if there's a stay of execution, the commuted prisoner will probably appreciate not getting a secondary infection.
posted by zarq at 4:40 AM on May 13


To murderers let us say
what you did was not good
but it was ok
we are not better than you.
posted by pfh at 6:26 AM on May 13


Texas has denied a stay for tonight's execution. A further appeal has now been filed with the Supreme Court, "based in large part on Texas’ refusal to identify the source of the compounded drug to be used in the execution chamber."
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:48 AM on May 13


CO2 doesn't result in death through hypoxia. Inhaled CO2 results in a profound respiratory acidosis, that then depresses the pH of the cerebrospinal fluid, resulting in unconsciousness, respiratory depression, hyperkalemia, cardiac arrhythmias and death. CO2 has been used as an inhaled anesthetic in humans. When dosed properly, it's apparently pretty effective.

The problem with CO2 is that it also activates enzymes (carbonic anyhdrases) present on mucous membranes, resulting in a stinging sensation that is anywhere from mildly aversive to really, really bad, depending on the concentration. Exposure to moderately elevated levels of CO2 will also result in dyspnea (air hunger), which is routinely rated by people as one of the most distressing sensations to experience.

The trick to getting CO2 right is to titrate the delivery so that the anesthetic effects kick in and the animal is unconscious before the higher levels that result in dyspnea occur. (Don't leave your dry ice container open in the cold room and work in there alone a long time, folks. Perfect delivery system.) Alternatively, respiratory physiologists argue that any chance for dyspnea is bad and animals should be placed directly into 100% CO2 so that they take a breath and are then unconscious. The AVMA Panel on Euthanasia is currently recommending slowly filling chambers, but this might change if research shows another method is more humane.

Now nitrogen and argon? Those are pretty bad deaths for animals, as their method of action is pretty much just hypoxia/anoxia.

(veterinarian and animal euthanasia researcher)
posted by marmot at 10:48 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


My understanding (from OSH training) is that dyspensia (the "I can't breathe" feeling) mostly happens at lowish concentrations. This EPA doc indicates between 2 to 6% carbon dioxide in air. Over 10% results in rapid loss of consciousness. At over 30%, convulsions and death happen very quickly, a minute or less.

For folks who work in confined spaces with potential high CO2 level, the concern is generally less the low level symptoms, but exposures high enough that the depressant effect kills before the individual notices something is wrong. Brewers cleaning tanks are the typical example. Lots of people have died in tanks that they could exit by climbing a short ladder.

Hypoxia seems to take a bit longer, and the subject appears to be more aware of it happening. I was not aware of the acidosis effects, which has caused concerns for pig slaughtering.
posted by bonehead at 1:02 PM on May 13


The Age of Enlightenment came up with a solution that is quick, efficient, and (as far as we can tell) painless: Madame Guillotine (music courtesy of the 1998 stage show The Scarlet Pimpernel)
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:42 PM on May 13


via AP: BREAKING: Appeals court halts Texas execution of convicted murderer over claims he is mentally impaired.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:25 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Now nitrogen and argon? Those are pretty bad deaths for animals, as their method of action is pretty much just hypoxia/anoxia.

Huh. I thought the main pre-hypoxia reaction of feeling suffocated/struggling for breath (dyspnea etc) was due to excess CO2, not lack of oxygen. The stuff I've read indicated that hypoxia via sufficient inert gas, i.e. nitrogen/argon/helium is a painless way to die - for people, at least.

Dignitas did a small study on it, for example, as an alternative for assisted suicide (though it concluded a sealed hood would be more effective than the face-mask approach), and apparently it even has a name - suicide bag.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:57 PM on May 13


Yes, anoxia isn't intrinsically unpleasant; in fact, it can be euphoric and chasing that euphoria is how people die of autoerotic asphyxiation.
posted by localroger at 6:04 PM on May 13


« Older He somehow straddled the line between Prog and New...  |  Memories of a Bette Midler Mes... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments