UM study suggests lethal injection may not be painless

The debate over the death penalty and whether it violates the eighth amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, has lasted for almost a century. Now, a new study by a Miller School of Medicine research team suggests lethal injection may cause pain and asphyxiation while the prisoner is still conscious.

The study, published in the Public Library of Science Medicine Journal, reviewed post-mortem reports, eyewitness testimonies and execution records from 42 execution processes in North Carolina and eight lethal injection executions in California.

Teresa A. Zimmers, lead author of the research report and research assistant professor at the School of Medicine, said in a press release that the lethal injection procedure requires three different drugs working together to cause anesthetization, paralysis and termination of heartbeat.

She also said that the combination of drugs has never been tested in lab animals and has no clinical precedence.

Leonidas Koniaris, senior author of the research report and associate professor of surgery, commented on the use of lethal injection in a press release.

“The reason that people support lethal injection is because they perceive it to be a humane medical procedure,” Koniaris said. “Here we provide more evidence that it is anything but that.”

In addition, lethal injections are delivered by volunteers instead of doctors or nurses. As a result, errors occur such as in the case of Florida inmate Angel Diaz whose IV was misplaced. Diaz was still conscious after 24 minutes and he had to receive additional drugs before the execution was completed.

Some states such as New York and Illinois have already halted the use of lethal injections due to concerns with the eighth amendment. Almost a dozen states, including Florida, have put the procedure on hold.

Karyn Meshbane may be contacted at