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My Turn: Death penalty is often cruel and unusual

The Eighth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights that was added as a condition to ratifying the constitution by our Founding Fathers.

In part it prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”

This concept is a bedrock principle to our civic society. Even the most ardent supporter of capital punishment would have to admit the recent, badly botched attempt to carry out a state-sanctioned execution in Oklahoma was cruel and unusual in its punishment.

A little-used three drug combination failed to kill the inmate who eventually went on to die of a stress-induced heart attack. This is not the first time this has happened nor will it be the last. It was not a pretty picture.

An inquiry commission will review the circumstances, but preliminary reports seem to indicate that part of the problem was the often difficult job of finding an adequate vein to administer the drugs.

Inmates who have a history of intravenous drug abuse often are particularly challenging in this regard. Technicians who actually administer these lethal drugs are often not well-trained in the art of finding adequate veins.

Anyone who has had an intravenous line “blown” while in a hospital setting can relate to this common problem.

I can remember many late-night struggles as an intern trying to find an adequate vein in sick patients and failing many times.

Established and experienced medical professionals rarely participate in executions due to ethical and moral concerns. One of the reasons that supporters of the death penalty cite is the supposed ease at which it is carried out with intravenous drugs.

This magical thinking is clearly a myth that sounds good on paper, but practical reality belies it as not true. A recent report also estimated that up to 4 percent of all inmates on death row have been wrongly convicted.

All of this should give our lawmakers pause in their ongoing deliberations regarding the death penalty in New Hampshire.

Our Senate recently deadlocked on this important decision. I would urge senators to re-examine their reasoning and reconsider this grave decision. No one can guarantee that the state will not cause cruel and unusual punishment with its current law.

(Stephen Elgert is a doctor with Elliot Family Medicine at Bedford Village.)

Legacy Comments1

I would like to know more details. Thew surface story just does not make sense. Possibilities that MIGHT explain "heart attack" during a lawful lethal injection include - someone substituting different drugs, the murderer taking huge dose of meth or other stimulant beforehand. Would criminals who earned lethal injection for the cruel murders of offers concoct a drama to cast doubt on a process used for decades - in a New York Minute! However, this is hypothesis - I would like to see the facts as the drugs used for lethal injections are depressants - not stimulants. Something doesn't add up. No explanation should warrant a "get off" card for murderers.

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