10 facts on lethal injections

The execution of an SA woman in China for drug trafficking has put the spotlight on this method of execution.

According to Amnesty International, 54 of the countries in the world and 35 states in the US have the death penalty. The vast majority of executions in 2009 took place in China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

There are currently 619 South Africans held in foreign jails for drug trafficking, some still awaiting trial.

The main problem with lethal injections as a method of execution lies in administering it: health professionals are required to be present, but many have moral objections, as they see their role to be that of healer rather than executioner.

How does this the lethal injection work and why are more and more countries who have the death penalty opting for it?

  • More and more countries are opting for lethal injection rather than other methods of execution for a number of reasons: it is less painful, less messy and less traumatic for those officials whose job it is to execute prisoners, and also for those witnessing the execution.
  • Prisoners who are condemned to death are usually kept in a special section of the prison, called Death Row. Last-minute appeals and stays of execution often delays matters for hours or days. In China, prisoners are only told on the day that they will be executed.
  • In most countries prisoners condemned to death are allowed to spend some time with their families and spiritual advisers before they are executed.
  • Lethal injection kills the person by first putting the person to sleep, and then stopping the breathing and heart in that order.
  • On December 7, 1982, Texas became the first state to use lethal injection to carry out capital punishment, for the execution of Charles Brooks.
  • When executed by lethal injection, you will be tied to something that looks like a hospital trolley and have two needles inserted into a vein. These are attached to intravenous cannulae (IVs) of which one is used as backup should the first one fail for whatever reason.
  • An overdose of the anaesthetic sodium thiopental is injected into your body.
  • This is followed by pancuronium bromide, which stops your breathing.
  • Then last but not least, a dose of potassium chloride stops your heart beating. Of all the ways of execution, this is probably the least painful.Death usually occurs within seven minutes, but can sometimes take up to two hours.
  • Many people have wondered why sterilised equipment is used for this grim procedure: the answer lies in the fact that equipment comes from the manufacturer sterilised. Also there may be a last-minute stay of execution. Unsterilised equipment could also hold some dangers for the staff concerned.

(References: Amnesty International, Howstuffworks, Health24)

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, December 2011)

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