Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones points out in her State Executioners: Untrained, Incompetent, and "Complete Idiots" piece that the torturing of Clayton Lockett in the Oklahoma death chamber last week was not exactly an aberration in the move toward lethal injections in state-sanctioned killings.
Historically, lethal injection has been plagued with problems just like those that occurred in Lockett's case, and they are due in large part to the incompetence of the people charged with administering the deadly drugs. Physicians have mostly left the field of capital punishment; the American Medical Association and other professional groups consider it highly unethical for doctors to assist with executions. As a result, the people willing to do the dirty work aren't always at the top of their fields, or even specifically trained in the jobs they're supposed to do. As Dr. Jay Chapman, the Oklahoma coroner who essentially created the modern lethal injection protocol, observed in The New York Times in 2007, "It never occurred to me when we set this up that we'd have complete idiots administering the drugs."

States typically have had few requirements for those serving on an execution team. At one point, in Florida, the only criteria was that a potential executioner be at least 18 years old. Wardens, prison guards, phlebotomists, paramedics, and nurses are sometimes in the mix.

Even though medical personnel should never be asked to be involved in executions and should lose their licenses if they agree to do so, there was the notorious, much-sued, much-sanctioned doctor in Missouri who oversaw 54 executions (and later was called upon to develop the federal protocol for executions). He admitted that his dyslexia made it difficult for him to combine execution drugs in the proper amounts. In one case, illustrated here in a report titled simply "Botched Executions," he screwed up the insertion of an IV into the femoral artery in the groin the same as was done to Lockett.

Then there was the nurse in the botched execution of Stanley Tookie Williams in 2005 who said of several failed attempts to insert the IV that led to a collapsed vein: "Shit does happen."

The team leader of executions at San Quentin State Prison was found to have been disciplined for smuggling drugs into the penitentiary, the sort of crime some people are serving decades in that very facility for having done.

Capital punishment should be done away with entirely, as it has been in 18 states and the District of Columbia. But given that a majority of Americans support the death penalty and always have except for very brief periods, according to the polls, it will be with us for a long time despite the cruel but hardly unusual screw-ups. Reading the putrid comment threads accompanying stories covering the killing of Lockett, it's obvious that far too many Americans have no problem with torturing people to death.

Objecting to this vileness does not constitute a lack of sympathy for the victims of those being executed. On the contrary, it demonstrates what the Eighth Amendment mandated more than two centuries ago: humanity.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Wed May 07, 2014 at 10:27 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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