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26-Minute Execution Deemed "Humane" in Ohio Analysis

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When Ohio executed convicted rapist and murderer Dennis McGuire in early 2014, it set off a maelstrom of controversy. Ohio used a drug cocktail that appeared to leave McGuire gasping for air for some 11 minutes until he was pronounced dead—26 minutes after the initial injection of his drugs. (Scientific American wrote its May editorial on this and related death penalty issues.)

Yet an investigation by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction on that execution, released April 28, concludes that the execution of McGuire was both humane and constitutional. Although McGuire appeared to be in pain, the report concludes that he was already unconscious when he had “involuntary muscle contractions associated with the ending of respiratory function.” The department’s analysis, which includes a review of McGuire’s medical records, states that his bodily actions were “consistent with the effects of the drugs, his obesity and other body characteristics.”

The state penal system, however, plans to increase its lethal drug dosage in the future. The sedative midazolam, which was previously used at a dosage of 10 milligrams, will be upped to 50 milligrams. And the painkiller hydromorphone will be increased from 40 milligrams to 50 milligrams. (For medical purposes, midazolam is usually prescribed at 1 to 2 milligrams and hydromorphone is 0.5 to 1 milligram). “After speaking with the Department's medical expert, examining other states' practices and considering the recommendations of the inmate's medical expert, the Department finds no harm in increasing the dosage levels of its drugs," says JoEllen Smith, communications chief for the department.

Ohio says it plans to go forward with its future scheduled executions with this new revised policy. The next execution is scheduled for May 28, 2014.

Read more:

Let’s Stop Pretending the Death Penalty Is a Medical Procedure [Editorial]

Many Prisoners on Death Row are Wrongfully Convicted [Article]

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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