lethal injection

lethal injection
a hypodermic injection that causes or is capable of causing death, esp., such an injection used to administer the death penalty

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▪ execution method
 method of executing condemned prisoners through the administration of chemicals that induce death.

      Now the most widely used method of execution in the United States, lethal injection was first adopted by the U.S. state of Oklahoma in 1977 because it was considered cheaper and more humane than either electrocution or lethal gas (see gas chamber). Texas was the first state to administer lethal injection, executing Charles Brooks, Jr., on Dec. 2, 1982. By the early 21st century lethal injection was the sole method of execution in most U.S. states where capital punishment was legal and was an option for inmates in all states except Nebraska. The method also is used by the U.S. federal government and the U.S. military. In the first three decades after 1976 (when the U.S. Supreme Court ended its moratorium on the death penalty), lethal injection was administered in some 900 executions.

      During a lethal injection procedure, an inmate is strapped to a gurney, a padded stretcher normally used for transporting hospital patients. The typical lethal injection consists of three chemicals that an executioner injects into a viable part of the inmate's body (usually the arms) in the following order: (1) sodium thiopental, a barbiturate commonly used as an anesthesia for surgery, which is supposed to induce sleep and the loss of consciousness in about 20 seconds, (2) pancuronium bromide, a total muscle relaxant that, given in sufficient dosages, stops breathing by paralyzing the diaphragm and lungs, and (3) potassium chloride, a drug that induces cardiac arrest and stops the inmate's heartbeat permanently. If all goes as planned, the entire execution takes about five minutes, with death usually occurring less than two minutes after the final injection. However, botched lethal injection executions have sometimes required more than an hour to achieve death.

      Substantial evidence suggests that botched lethal injections can inflict on the inmate unnecessary pain and indignity, and media-witnessed injections have shown a significant pattern of mishaps, particularly in Texas (where lethal injection has been administered most frequently). For example, inmates can suffer if they do not have suitable veins or if they receive an inadequate dosage of sodium thiopental (whereby they might regain consciousness and sensation while being injected with the two other chemicals). Such a scenario (or a mix-up of the drug sequence) suggests that an inmate may feel excruciating pain but not be able to show it because he is paralyzed by the pancuronium bromide. A study of state lethal injection protocols showed that such failures can be linked to vague lethal injection statutes, uninformed prison personnel and executioners (who typically are not medically trained, because doctors are normally precluded from participating in executions), and skeletal or inaccurate directions that reveal errors and ignorance about the procedure.

      In 2004 and 2006, in two separate cases, the U.S. Supreme Court (Supreme Court of the United States) ruled on the constitutionality of certain procedural aspects of lethal injection under the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. In a test of the lethal-injection protocol followed by Kentucky, the Supreme Court decided in 2008 that the risk of severe pain due to mishap was not great enough to render the method cruel and unusual.

      Lethal injection has been adopted in some other countries, including China, Guatemala, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand.

Deborah W. Denno

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Universalium. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • lethal injection — n. a hypodermic injection that causes or is capable of causing death, esp., such an injection used to administer the death penalty …   English World dictionary

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  • lethal injection — UK / US noun [countable/uncountable] Word forms lethal injection : singular lethal injection plural lethal injections a method of executing someone by using a needle to put a drug into their body …   English dictionary

  • lethal injection — lethal in jection noun count or uncount a method of EXECUTING someone by using a needle to put a drug into their body …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Lethal Injection (album) — Infobox Album | Name = Lethal Injection Type = Album Artist = Ice Cube Released = December 7, 1993 Recorded = 1993 Genre = Gangsta rap Length = 56:21 Label = Priority Records Producer = QD3, Madness 4 Real, Sir Jinx, Ice Cube Reviews = *Allmusic… …   Wikipedia

  • lethal injection — noun A means of execution in the United States or of euthanasia …   Wiktionary

  • Lethal — is something that is capable of causing death to a living being. For example, a Lethal injection.It may also refer to:*A Lethal gene, a gene which produces an organism which dies before reproducing *Leigh Matthews, Australian rules footballer… …   Wikipedia

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