Lethal Injection: States Medicalize Execution

Joel B. Zivot, MD *

In Baze v. Rees, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of a method of lethal injection used for capital punishment.[1] The three-drug protocol referenced in Baze consisted of three chemicals injected into the condemned inmate via an intravenous drip.[2] The three-drug protocol began with sodium thiopental, followed by pancuronium bromide, and lastly, potassium chloride.[3] The claim that this lethal injection method would violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment was made on behalf of two individuals, Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling, both sentenced to death in Kentucky.[4]

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*    Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology & Surgery, Medical Director of the Cardio-Thoracic Intensive Care Unit, Emory School of Medicine & Emory University Hospital. ABA, Anesthesiology/Critical Care Medicine, 1995, Cleveland Clinic Foundation; FRCP(C), Anesthesiology, 1993, University of Toronto; MD, 1988, University of Manitoba.

Thank you to the University of Richmond School of Law for giving me a forum to share my views on the problems of lethal injection. I want to especially thank Professor Corinna Barrett Lain, Tara Ann Badawy, Leah Stiegler, and the University of Richmond Law Review Allen Chair Symposium. Doctors have a unique perspective that has been mostly absent in law reviews and I hope my effort here will shed additional light on this important subject.

[1].    553 U.S. 35, 47 (2008).

[2].    Id. at 44.

[3].    Id.

[4].    Id. at 46–47.