The death penalty has always been a source of great debate in America, and that debate is about get more intense. According to CNN, Arkansas plans to execute eight men over the course of 10 days in April. No one has been executed in Arkansas for 11 years, and no state has ever administered so many executions in such a short time.
The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty condemned the decision, saying:
“The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (ACADP) is outraged by … plans to carry out eight executions within the span of ten days in April … This planned mass execution is grotesque and unprecedented.”
Arkansas is one of 31 states where the death penalty is legal. Lethal injection is the primary means used by all of these states, as it’s long been considered to be the most humane option.
Recent events are shifting that perception.
The process of lethal injection originally involved administering three different drugs in a particular order. First the inmate was given sodium thiopental, a powerful anesthetic. Then pancuronium bromide, which effectively paralyzed them. Last, potassium chloride was administered to induce cardiac arrest.
Jeffrey Rosenzweig, an attorney for three of the inmates scheduled to be executed, stressed the importance of the anesthetic:
“Unless the prisoner is unconscious, then drugs two and three will cause pain — torturous punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and state guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment.”
Lethal injection changed when the sole American manufacturer of sodium thiopental stopped production. The U.S. government approached European companies, who refused to supply the drug for lethal injection purposes. It was replaced by a new drug called Midazolam, which critics say does not reliably render inmates unconscious.
Robert Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said about the drug:
“Midazolam may put you to sleep initially, but it doesn’t render you insensate. To attempt eight executions with Midazolam — including four multiple executions — is unheard of and reckless.”
Witnesses of executions involving Midazolam have reported that the deaths did not appear painless at all. Inmates were seen gasping, struggling, and in one case, speaking moments before death.
The rushed scheduling of the executions is due to a recent shortage of both Midazolam and potassium chloride. Arkansas’s access has already expired for potassium chloride and will expire in April for Midazolam, leaving some to wonder if they have enough resources to carry out the planned lethal injections. Nevertheless, the state plans to follow through with them next month.
Watch this reconstruction of a failed lethal injection, as has happened a number of times in the last few years:
Featured Image by the Arizona Department of Justice via CNN.