- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

The federal government will use three common medicines to put Timothy J. McVeigh to death May 16, adopting an injection method first proposed in 1888 when New York acted to make executions more humane in an era of public hangings.
McVeighs execution will be the first of a federal prisoner since 1963. McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering eight federal officers in the catastrophic Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing that also killed 160 other persons.
The Bureau of Prisons said yesterday it plans to carry out an execution that shows "respect, dignity, and compassion for everyone involved."
Spokesman Daniel Dunne declined to specify if an automated "dosage machine" will dispense the drugs in lieu of a prison staff member or civilian executioner.
Lethal injection as administered in the 21st century with plungers squeezed by a machine calibrated to the second, or by a less precise human hand can dispatch a grown man without a whimper in four and a half minutes, using a procedure that drugs him into deep sleep, paralyzes his body, then short-circuits the 0.1-volt surges that keep the heart beating.
Nineteenth-century New York lawmakers, caving under pressure from doctors who feared their hypodermics would be linked with death, adopted the electric chair, along with Thomas Edisons suggestion to call that method electrocution.
Lethal injection became law 89 years later in 1977, and it since has been used in 542 executions in 29 states. The Oklahoma state Senate solicited medical advice from Dr. Stanley Deutsch, head of the Oklahoma Medical School anesthesiology department.
"He invented it," said Fordham law school professor Deborah Denno, a capital-punishment critic and an authority on lethal injection.
"Thats not true," Dr. Deutsch told The Washington Times, recalling that state Sen. Bill Dawson called him when the bill was pending and asked how injections might be carried out.
"I wrote the senator a letter explaining how on Feb. 28, 1977, and that was the end of my involvement," said Dr. Deutsch, who is a rarity among medical doctors for supporting the death penalty and advising on its use despite the American Medical Associations ethics policy against involvement.
"I think McVeigh certainly deserves to be executed. A lot of doctors wouldnt mind starting his IV," Dr. Deutsch told The Times.
Miss Denno and anesthesiologist Edward Brunner both expert witnesses supporting death-row appeals to block lethal injections say the drug combination masks extensive pain and choking.
"McVeigh is a terrible murderer, but we do not create life and have no right to destroy it," said Dr. Brunner, a retired Northwestern University professor who also has a doctorate in pharmacology. "Im a physician who uses these drugs, which are designed to help people and not to distort their use so they are killers instead of curers. How would you feel if you came into my operating room and I said 'Im going to put you to sleep with the same drug they used to kill McVeigh the other day?"
"If the courts knew these people were being paralyzed in excruciating pain it would quickly become an Eighth Amendment issue for cruel and unusual punishment," said Miss Denno, who conceded she cannot document her claim.
"No one knows for a fact. Thats part of the problem," she said.
Attorney General John Ashcrofts Justice Department disagrees and stood fast with a federal protocol that follows the practice of virtually every state using lethal injection three 10-second injections spaced one minute apart into the saline flowing through IV tubes.
First comes sodium thiopental (Pentothal) as an "induction agent," putting the prisoner into a deep sleep for five minutes. One minute later pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) is injected to block impulses from nerves to muscles, effectively paralyzing the prisoner. The final agent is potassium chloride to stop the heart.
All three are common medicines, with potassium chloride the most widely used to keep heartbeat steady in patients who take diuretics to control blood pressure.
Fred A. Leuchter Associates Inc., a company that manufactures injection machines and other execution tools, recommends 15 milligrams of each drug.
Like most states fearing criticism for using too much or too little the Bureau of Prisons is mum on dosage. "The quantity is sufficient to cause death," Mr. Dunne responded yesterday when asked about amounts.
Some states follow Leuchters recommendations to add an antihistamine such as Benadryl to the saline before the execution starts in order "to prevent choking." New York and South Carolina separately inject a small early dose of the tranquilizer Versed (midazolam hcl), as advised by Leuchter.
If the medical cocktail acts as quickly as expected, McVeighs heart will stop and the electrocardiogram will show only a flat line less than two minutes after the last drug is given, for an elapsed execution time of about 270 seconds.
Prison officials and critics agree that most such executions go off without a hitch. A handful, however, were botched because intravenous lines were placed incorrectly or chemicals "precipitated" and clogged the IV lines, as occurred in Illinois execution of John Wayne Gacy, delaying his execution, lawyer Meghan S. Skelton wrote in 1997.
Miss Skelton, now a Department of Justice lawyer not involved in the McVeigh case, said Monday she stands by what she wrote in Thomas Jefferson Law Review that "an error in dosage could leave the prisoner conscious but paralyzed, a sentient witness of his or her own slow, lingering asphyxiation."
Five widely reported incidents have been cited in a series of unsuccessful lawsuits that charge the method is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. Death in those few cases took from 40 minutes to an hour.
Other death-penalty opponents use such reports when they argue that condemned prisoners were left too paralyzed to react to searing pain when the Pentothal wore off.


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