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#1
Old 12-29-2017, 10:10 PM
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In America, can a death row prisoner ask to be knocked unconscious before execution

I know with lethal injection they knock you out first.

But if you are on death row and going to be executed via electric chair, gas chamber, hanging, firing squad, etc. can a prisoner ask to be knocked unconscious using general anesthetics before being executed?

Do they have any legal rights to request this? Is this ever done as a courtesy?
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#2
Old 12-29-2017, 11:07 PM
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No. It's not done. Knocking somebody out is hard, and can't really be safely done without an anasthesiologist, and doctors in the United States, for ethical reasons, won't participate in executions.
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Last edited by Captain Amazing; 12-29-2017 at 11:07 PM.
#3
Old 12-29-2017, 11:17 PM
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But why is safety a concern?

Besides, With lethal injection, they inject you with phenobarbital to knock you out before giving you something else to stop your heart and breathing. So using anesthetics to knock someone unconscious before execution is already done with lethal injection.

Why don't they do that with the gas chamber or firing squad? Inject someone with phenobarbital, then kill the unconscious person.
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Last edited by Wesley Clark; 12-29-2017 at 11:18 PM.
#4
Old 12-29-2017, 11:22 PM
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It varies from state to state. Some allow sedatives that calm the condemned prisoner and make his death easier.

None allow prisoners to be executed in their sleep. It's unconstitutional.

http://nytimes.com/1995/08/12/us...-executed.html

Under a 1986 United States Supreme Court ruling, said Sandy Howard, an Assistant State Attorney General, a condemned person "has to be aware of his execution and he has to know why he is being executed."
#5
Old 12-29-2017, 11:24 PM
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But with lethal injection, knocking someone out is part of the process. So why is that different? If you just gave someone the phenobarbital, they'd pass out and then wake up. But they use it to knock someone out, then they use two other drugs to paralyze muscles and stop the heart.
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#6
Old 12-29-2017, 11:25 PM
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Safety is a concern because the prison has both the legal and moral obligation to keep the prisoners under their safe and healthy. This is true even of those prisoners who are on death row. If you are sentenced to die in the gas chamber, until you are actually in the gas chamber and the gas is turned on, the prison has an obligation to protect you. If you are on your way to the gas chamber, and you slip and fall, knocking yourself unconscious, the prison will treat you. If you attempt to commit suicide in the holding room before you are to be executed, the prison will attempt to maintain your life and restore you to health.
#7
Old 12-30-2017, 12:24 AM
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Couple of add-on questions:

If phenobarbital can be legally be administered before the rest of the lethal injection drugs, then why are the other drugs even needed? Just triple the dosage and overdose the condemned.

Also.......why does the prisoner needing to be aware of why he is being executed, and what's happening, make it illegal to knock him out prior to firing squad? He had many years on death row in which he was 100% aware of his fate and what would happen.
#8
Old 12-30-2017, 03:14 AM
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Are you asking a legal or moral question? If it's a legal question, there are no doubt a set of legal decisions that are logical, given certain assumptions.

If you are asking a moral question, the answer is probably that the essence of being condemned to death as a legal punishment is not that you will die -- everyone does, so the state has no power to decree that or not per se -- but that the choice of when and how you will die is no longer yours, the state has taken that from you. That is, some component of the punishment is supposed to be the removal from you of agency, the right to choose (to the extent practical) how and when you die. This is consistent with the general idea of imprisonment as a punishment: the idea is that free men really, really hate having their liberty and self-determination taken away, perhaps even more so than the plain loss of life, under the right circumstances. Whether that is true or not, or true for all people or just some, et cetera, is an interesting question, but it is I think part of the moral axioms underlying execution as a punishment.

And therefore, if part of the punishment is the loss of self-determination, then of course the state has a great interest in making sure you do not re-acquire that self-determination. For you to die in a way or at a time of your own choosing, even within limits established by the state, defies some aspect of the punishment. For the punishment to serve its moral purpose, you must die exactly when and exactly how the state decrees, and have absolutely no say in the matter. So, yeah, if the execution warrant says 12:01am at such-and-such a place by breathing HCN gas, then any effort on your part to make it happen at 8pm by taking an overdose of tranquilizers will be vigorously resisted by the state. You would be cheating the executioner, so to speak. Cheating your fellow citizens of their satisfaction in causing your death, not merely observing it.

A lot of social punishment has always involved some aspect of loss of self-determination and/or humiliation. The stocks, the publicness of executions, the ride on the cart to the gallows, even the more horrific methods of execution -- impalement. crucifixion -- that emphasize the humiliation and/or sense of personal violation. These are all things that add an extra level of horror to the conscious and self-aware human being, beyond the sheer brute animal suffering.
#9
Old 12-30-2017, 03:24 AM
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Maybe if they can prove that they, as a courtesy, made sure that their victim(s) were unconscious before murdering them, then it might be considered. Otherwise ...
#10
Old 12-30-2017, 03:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
If phenobarbital can be legally be administered before the rest of the lethal injection drugs, then why are the other drugs even needed? Just triple the dosage and overdose the condemned.
You can pump drugs into someone until they die, but it's harder to do it quickly and quietly, and that's the whole point of lethal injection.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 12-30-2017 at 03:32 AM.
#11
Old 12-30-2017, 05:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Morris View Post
Under a 1986 United States Supreme Court ruling, said Sandy Howard, an Assistant State Attorney General, a condemned person "has to be aware of his execution and he has to know why he is being executed."
That feels pretty messed up. It would obviously be far less cruel if it were unexpected in a prisoner's sleep.

The way executions are performed, where the prisoner is given a countdown in days before their death...and this countdown will be reset, sometimes on the last day, many times before the state finally gets around to executing the prisoner (if they didn't die of old age first, which is one of the biggest risks on death row to their lives...) feels incredibly cruel.

I've read the Soviets would do various tactics to keep the prisoner unaware of his fate, and would at least shoot the prisoner in the head expeditiously, instead of all that time strapped to a gurney while they poke for a vein. Seems less cruel.
#12
Old 12-30-2017, 03:03 PM
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There's also the issue that general anesthesia won't work for an execution. The sort of anesthesia usually used in surgery and such doesn't actually prevent you from feeling pain. It just prevents you from remembering pain. For a surgery, that's just as good, but someone getting executed isn't going to remember it afterwards anyway, no matter what you do.
#13
Old 12-30-2017, 03:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SamuelA View Post
That feels pretty messed up. It would obviously be far less cruel if it were unexpected in a prisoner's sleep.

[snip]

I've read the Soviets would do various tactics to keep the prisoner unaware of his fate, and would at least shoot the prisoner in the head expeditiously, instead of all that time strapped to a gurney while they poke for a vein. Seems less cruel.
Interestingly, the execution procedure in Taiwan supposedly uses both methodsóthe condemned is doped up (in addition to getting a bottle of wine at the last meal), and then shot at close range in the heart, or in the brain.

The brain stem shot was for if the condemned volunteered to donate their organsórecovering organs from executed prisoners was apparently banned in 2015, though.
#14
Old 12-30-2017, 05:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
There's also the issue that general anesthesia won't work for an execution. The sort of anesthesia usually used in surgery and such doesn't actually prevent you from feeling pain. It just prevents you from remembering pain. For a surgery, that's just as good, but someone getting executed isn't going to remember it afterwards anyway, no matter what you do.
I've been under general and local anesthesia before and find this claim questionable. If someone were truly in agony during surgery, but didn't recall it, wouldn't the surgeons note an immense spike in blood pressure, muscle tension, etc. during the appendectomy (or whatever?)

Local anesthesia indeed prevented the sensation of pain, so why not general?
#15
Old 12-30-2017, 07:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
There's also the issue that general anesthesia won't work for an execution. The sort of anesthesia usually used in surgery and such doesn't actually prevent you from feeling pain. It just prevents you from remembering pain. For a surgery, that's just as good, but someone getting executed isn't going to remember it afterwards anyway, no matter what you do.
This is incorrect, generally speaking. When dosing anesthetic gas, the unit we use is the concentration of gas at which the (unparalyzed) patient does not move in response to a surgical incision. Lack of autonomic response is a slightly deeper level of anesthesia, usually achieved by using other drugs in combination with volatile gas. Patients under adequate anesthesia do not feel or experience pain in any meaningful way, to the best of our knowledge.
#16
Old 12-30-2017, 07:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Shmendrik View Post
This is incorrect, generally speaking. When dosing anesthetic gas, the unit we use is the concentration of gas at which the (unparalyzed) patient does not move in response to a surgical incision. Lack of autonomic response is a slightly deeper level of anesthesia, usually achieved by using other drugs in combination with volatile gas. Patients under adequate anesthesia do not feel or experience pain in any meaningful way, to the best of our knowledge.
Wouldn't it be simpler to just execute prisoners with a massive overdose of anesthetic, like Carfentanil? It seems so much more human, we know it'll give people a buzz from the opiates, and they just stop being able to breeze. It's also such a potent substance that 1000 times the normal dose would still easily fit in a syringe.

Or use nitrogen or a similar inert gas.

The way it's done now feels like it's being major extra cruel on purpose.
#17
Old 12-30-2017, 08:24 PM
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As soon as you start using a regular anaesthetic for death penalty killings, the European Union countries will cut off all sales of that drug to the US, because it is EU policy not to provide assistance to the death penalty.

Since the EU is the source of many prescription drugs, that could mean those drugs are not available for regular surgeries in the US, which could have a significant impact across the board.
#18
Old 12-30-2017, 09:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
As soon as you start using a regular anaesthetic for death penalty killings, the European Union countries will cut off all sales of that drug to the US.
Then overdose on an "irregular" anesthetic.
#19
Old 12-30-2017, 09:51 PM
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Killing someone with drugs is pretty easy, AFAIK, but that's not the point of the whole lethal injection apparatus. The chosen drug has to kill in a way such that the witnesses see the condemned drift off into peaceful sleep. A drug doesn't work if the person is dead in five minutes, but spends those five minutes gasping and heaving and moaning and shrieking. If that happens, the AP reporter in the witness booth runs off and files a story portraying the prison as a backwater torture chamber.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 12-30-2017 at 09:55 PM.
#20
Old 12-30-2017, 09:54 PM
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Then you run into Food and Drug regulations. You can't use meds on a person that haven't been approved for use on humans by Food and Drug, even if the goal of using them in a particular case is to kill. So you can't use anaesthetics that have only been approved for animals.

My understanding is that there's only a small group of meds which are approved for human use that suit the legal requirement for injection-killing and are available in the US. Shortage in that small group of drugs has caused delays in some executions, and other executions that ... have not gone well, as states struggle to find the drugs they need for the execution.

Last edited by Northern Piper; 12-30-2017 at 09:55 PM.
#21
Old 12-31-2017, 10:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SamuelA View Post
Wouldn't it be simpler to just execute prisoners with a massive overdose of anesthetic, like Carfentanil? It seems so much more human, we know it'll give people a buzz from the opiates, and they just stop being able to breeze.
A prisoner who is unable to breeze could, very well, still be able to chill.

Also, Carfentanil is intended for use in large animals such as elephants, making it less human.
#22
Old 12-31-2017, 10:26 AM
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There is a very long list of ways to kill a human being so quickly that they would be unable to perceive it, or render them unconscious before killing them in whatever way you want, or, or, or....

The choice of method is a political question, not a technical one. Yes, it would be easier to gas someone with N2, or He, or whatever. Yes, showering in carfentanil would do it, as would a howitzer round to the skull or explosive decompression, and they'd never know what hit them.

The choice of method is based on hoary historical precedent, and the relative squeamishness/bloodthirstiness of the legislature, prison system, and judiciary at the time in question. We want executions to have witnesses, but not be open to the public. We want to render prisoners unconscious before stopping the heart, but not shoot them in their sleep. We will let a prisoner have a feeding tube forced down their throat but lethal drugs must be administered IV, etc. We will suffocate you with toxic gas but can't let you suffocate from suppressing your respiratory drive with opioids. We'll shoot you in the heart but not in the head.

There's no point in looking for a consistent logical basis to all this.
#23
Old 12-31-2017, 10:44 AM
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Sometimes the SDMB disappoints me. The OP posed the question whether a condemned prisoner can ask to be put unconscious. Yes, they can ask.
#24
Old 01-01-2018, 04:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Procrustus View Post
Sometimes the SDMB disappoints me. The OP posed the question whether a condemned prisoner can ask to be put unconscious. Yes, they can ask.
They may ask in the same way they may also ask to just be let go.
Both will be entertained with the same considerations

None
#25
Old 01-01-2018, 05:11 PM
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Originally Posted by SamuelA View Post
Or use nitrogen or a similar inert gas.

The way it's done now feels like it's being major extra cruel on purpose.
I don't understand why nitrogen is not used. It's cheap, easy to use, leaks from the chamber are not harmful to witnesses (unless it's a massive leak), and no need to search for a vein.

It seems to me an obvious method of execution.
#26
Old 01-01-2018, 05:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Procrustus View Post
Sometimes the SDMB disappoints me. The OP posed the question whether a condemned prisoner can ask to be put unconscious. Yes, they can ask.
Someone upthread mentioned how anxiolytics can be given to someone about to be executed, but it varies by state. It didn't mention if the condemned can be asked to be knocked out with drugs, then have their unconscious body strapped into the electric chair or put in the gas chamber.
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Last edited by Wesley Clark; 01-01-2018 at 05:30 PM.
#27
Old 01-01-2018, 05:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Procrustus View Post
Sometimes the SDMB disappoints me. The OP posed the question whether a condemned prisoner can ask to be put unconscious. Yes, they can ask.
You appear not to have read the entire OP.

Besides that, that no one until now took the course of an excessively literal reading of the question is encouraging rather than disappointing.
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