More "bad science"

Posted: Jun 16, 2006 10:05 AM

Consider this another example of how the left throws science out the window when it suits its philosophy. Death-penalty opponents have been fighting lethal-injection executions because, well, they oppose the death penalty. Enter the so-called scientific community. Last year, the British medical journal The Lancet reported that after being injected with the three drugs used to execute convicted murderers in America, some inmates might experience "awareness and suffering during execution." This, opponents claim, violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution because it is "cruel and unusual punishment."

The anti-death penalty left's bad science is working for them: It is winning execution delays. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling to delay the execution of Clarence Hill, a convicted Florida cop killer. The court's ruling took no side on the pain controversy. It focused instead on an obscure legal question as to whether a condemned prisoner could use the civil rights acts to fight lethal injection.

It is hard not to see the ruling as a reward for bad medicine. In February, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel effectively delayed the execution of convicted killer Michael Morales so that Fogel could review the state's lethal-injection protocol.

The Lancet article, based on post-mortem drug testing of executed inmates, gave credence to the bogus pain claims. It warned, "It is possible that some of these inmates were fully aware during their execution."

Fully aware? There is little reason to believe this. It turns out that the researchers for the Lancet article took blood samples as long as two days after inmates died, not within the first hours after death. That allowed time for the drugs to diminish in the blood -- which maybe was the intent. Meanwhile, the media uncritically reported the article's findings.

So, in a sense, death-penalty opponents have aped the behavior of critics of evolution. They don't have to prove their thesis, they just have to establish doubt.

Let me acknowledge that some injection executions have not proceeded perfectly. In 2003, a North Carolina inmate convulsed and gagged before he died, but that doesn't mean he suffered. Surgeon Jonathan I. Groner of Ohio State University complained of technicians who took as long as 40 minutes to insert a catheter into a vein -- which he considers to be "needle torture."

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.