Debra J. Saunders

That said, the injection protocols are designed to prevent pain. California, anesthesiologist Mark Dershwitz of the University of Massachusetts noted in a declaration for the state, administers a dose of 5 grams of sodium pentothal during lethal injection. The textbook dose for starting surgery is 300 to 400 milligrams -- which means that executioners are administering a dose of at least 12.5 times that given to patients to begin invasive medical procedures.

Dershwitz believes that if protocols are followed -- if prison officials administer the right dose of the right drugs in the right order into a working intravenous tube -- "there's essentially no chance that an inmate will suffer."

On the other side, Groner argued that the second drug, a paralyzing agent, can cast "a chemical veil" that hides the pain the inmate might feel during the execution. Dershwitz responded, chemical veil "is not a term that a pharmacologist or anesthesiologist would use."

Anesthesiologist Robert E. Hertzga, who testified for the California Medical Association in Sacramento, Calif., against allowing doctors in the execution chamber, hasn't heard of the term, either.

Do inmates feel pain during execution? Hertzga said that California dosages "would induce a coma" for several minutes. "It's inconceivable to me that that protocol done properly" would cause "pain in the way that we all think of perceiving pain."

Groner and Lance Lindsey of Death Penalty Focus have convinced me on this: Judges have erred in issuing rulings that insert doctors into the execution process. While well-intended, this mandate makes no sense. Doctors are healers, not executors; you don't need a doctor to execute someone.

Dane Gillete of the state attorney general's office argued, "The fact that there may be some incidental pain that's associated of a minor nature in and of itself does not make the procedure unconstitutional."

Me? I don't want killers to suffer during execution, but if it happens inadvertently, I can accept it. Sometimes bad things happen to bad people.

Meanwhile, if there is anything for certain, it is that death-penalty opponents will file essentially frivolous appeals because they believe it is moral to do so. Which is why judges have a moral responsibility not to fall for their bad science.

Debra J. Saunders

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