An American way of deathProfessor Deborah Denno in The Guardian, December 07, 2009
Ohio's new method would supplant a three-drug cocktail that has become the main way of putting prisoners to death since it was introduced in the late 1970s.
An intravenous drip is inserted into the prisoner's arm through which sodium thiopental, an anaesthetic, is first introduced to put the prisoner to sleep; then pancuronium to induce paralysis of the muscles; and finally potassium chloride, which causes the heart to stop.
The benefits of the triple-drug cocktail from the authorities' perspective is it is relatively quick to administer and gives the outward appearance of a humane death.
Opponents argue, however, that it is a cruel and inhumane procedure because the paralytic agent prevents prisoners from shouting out even though they might be experiencing excruciating pain. Ohio's experimental one-drug method would rely on a massive overdose of the same anaesthetic, sodium thiopental, at a dose of 5g – about 14 times the normal dose.
There would then be a second back-up method for those cases where a suitable vein cannot be found, which would involve injecting two other sedatives – midazolam and hydromorphone – into the prisoner's muscle.
Critics say that this method is untested and therefore a form of human experimentation.
"No one knows how this method would turn out," said Deborah Denno, a specialist in execution methods at Fordham University in New York. "But there is evidence it can induce a slow lingering death with the prisoner in a confused, anguished state."