In 1977, Oklahoma became the first state to adopt lethal injection as a means of execution, though it would be five more years until Charles Brooks would become the first person executed by lethal injection in Texas on December 7, 1982. Today, 37 of the 38 states that have the death penalty use this method.
When this method is used, the condemned person
is usually bound to a gurney and a member of the execution team positions
several heart monitors on his skin. Two needles (one is a back-up) are
then inserted into usable veins, usually in the inmates arms. Long tubes
connect the needle through a hole in a cement block wall to several intravenous
drips. The first is a harmless saline solution that is started immediately.
Then, at the warden's signal, a curtain is raised exposing the inmate
to the witnesses in an adjoining room. Then, the inmate is injected with
sodium thiopental - an anesthetic, which puts the inmate to sleep. Next
flows pavulon or pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the entire muscle
system and stops the inmate's breathing. Finally, the flow of potassium
chloride stops the heart. Death results from anesthetic overdose and respiratory
and cardiac arrest while the condemned person is unconscious. (Ecenbarger,
1994 and Weisberg, 1991)
ethics preclude doctors from participating in executions. However, a doctor sometimes will
certify the inmate is dead. This lack of medical participation can be problematic
because often injections are performed by inexperienced technicians or orderlies.
If a member of the execution team injects the drugs into a muscle instead of a
vein, or if the needle becomes clogged, extreme pain can result. Many prisoners
have damaged veins resulting from intravenous drug use and it is sometimes difficult
to find a usable vein, resulting in long delays while the inmate remains strapped
to the gurney. (Ecenbarger, 1994 and Weisberg, 1991)