Fordham Law

Ohio's execution of Kenneth Biros an experiment on involuntary human subject

Fordham Urban Law Journal in Jurist, December 01, 2009

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Richard Dieter [Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center]: "In a rapid sequence of events, the state of Ohio has abandoned its longstanding commitment to the standard method of lethal injection, adopted a new protocol (and even more novel "backup plan") that no other state employs, and has asserted that it is ready to carry out its first execution under these new procedures in a few days. The execution of Kenneth Biros should not go forward on December 8 without further review.
Ohio's track record with lethal injections has been dismal. In 2006, Ohio finally succeeded in killing Joseph Clark after 90 minutes of bungling in the lethal injection chamber. Clark repeatedly called out "It don't work. It don't work." In 2007, Ohio executed Christopher Newton with similar problems, and he was not declared dead until two hours after the process started. Despite revisions to their procedures, Ohio failed in its attempt to execute Romell Broom in September 2009. After two hours, the execution team gave up and Broom was removed from the chamber. Ohio confidently said that it was ready to put Broom through another execution attempt one week later, but that attempt was blocked by the courts, exercising well-deserved skepticism.
Very recently, Ohio has proposed a one-drug protocol - a massive (5000 milligram) overdose of an anesthetic - to kill those on death row. Surely, this latest experiment on involuntary human subjects needs to be examined more closely before the state's word is taken at face value. Ohio consulted with Dr. Mark Dershwitz regarding their new execution plan. But even Dr. Dershwitz admits that the effects of this massive dose are untested, even if lethal. He stated in the Fordham Urban Law Journal that "We are unaware of any indication in clinical medicine in which a 5000mg dose of thiopental is given to a 80kg patient...there is circumstantial evidence that a 5000mg dose of thiopental may have caused, in some inmates, virtual cessation of circulation."
Other doctors had even more serious reservations about this one-drug protocol in the same journal. Dr. Susi Vasallo said that to view this new method as an improvement was an "illusion." Dr. Teresa Zimmers said the drug might not be sufficient to cause death. The Royal Dutch Society rejected this method for euthanasia. The new protocol still requires an insertion of an IV, a process that the Ohio prison guards have not been able to complete in a humane manner. Ohio's backup plan is to insert other drugs into the muscles of the inmate. This, too, is without precedent. Perhaps experts from the medical profession will agree that Ohio has chosen the best available alternative to the risky three-drug process. But such a conclusion requires an evidentiary and adversarial hearing - not a doormat of blind acceptance."
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