April 13, 2006

Calling Dr. Kevorkian. Or Rather, Not Calling Dr. Kevorkian.

What better way to eliminate the problem of using physicians in execution (or rather, having to call off executions because physicians have found an issue on which they will not bend - period): use a machine to do their part in the procedure. Somebody sold North Carolina a bispectral index monitor, designed for entirely different purposes:
"It's not a stand-alone device," said Dr. Scott D. Kelley, the medical director of Aspect Medical Systems, which makes the device and said it inadvertently sold one to a prison hospital in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday. "It's another information source. It turns brainwaves into clinically useful information to help anesthesia professionals guide their monitoring of the patient."

Using only the device to discern the potential suffering of condemned inmates, Dr. Kelley said, "is taking a leap of faith I simply cannot endorse." Dr. Kelley said his company, based in Newton, Mass., took no position on the death penalty or on executions by lethal injection. But the sale of the device on Tuesday was, he said, "a regrettable system failure." "Any use of this technology that is not in a health care facility is outside the intended use of the technology," he said.

The state is nonplussed; "In its filing yesterday, state officials said that the otherwise unspecified "execution team" would not administer the second or third chemicals until the monitor showed that Mr. Brown was unconscious. Should he awaken, the filing said, more barbiturate would be administered until the monitor again showed unconsciousness."

It's hard to believe anyone would want to pay close attention to executions, because lethal injection is performed so carefully and is so painless, as Adam Liptak reported in today's New York Times:

The three chemicals used in lethal injections in about 35 states have long attracted attention for what critics say is their needless and dangerous complexity. The first chemical in the series is sodium thiopental, a short-acting barbiturate. Properly administered, all sides agree, it is sufficient to render an inmate unconscious for many hours, if not to kill him. The second chemical is pancuronium bromide, a relative of curare. If administered by itself, it paralyzes the body but leaves the subject conscious, suffocating but unable to cry out. The third, potassium chloride, stops the heart and causes excruciating pain as it travels through the veins. Problems arise, lawyers and experts for the inmates say, when poorly trained personnel make mistakes in preparing the chemicals, inserting the catheters and injecting the chemicals into intravenous lines. If the first chemical is ineffective, the other two are torturous.

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