Execution by lethal injection – a quarter century of state poisoning

Facts and Figures


§         Lethal injections and total executions


Lethal injection executions since adoption of method (to 31 July 2007)

Total executions in same period


919 [age range of prisoner: 23 to 77 years]



Hundreds, perhaps thousands – official information is not released by the government

25-30,000 – estimated figure although the number is believed to be much higher.














  • Lethal injection - method

In lethal injection executions, prisoners are commonly injected with lethal doses of three chemicals: sodium thiopental to rapidly induce unconsciousness, pancuronium bromide to cause muscle paralysis and thus respiratory arrest, and potassium chloride to stop the heart.


Doctors have expressed concern that if inadequate levels of sodium thiopental are administered (for example, through incorrect doses of thiopental, faulty attachment of the line, or precipitation of chemicals) proper anaesthetic depth will not be achieved or the anaesthetic effect can wear off rapidly and the prisoner will experience severe pain as the lethal potassium chloride enters the veins and he or she goes into cardiac arrest. Due to the paralysis induced by pancuronium bromide, they may be unable to communicate their distress to anyone.


  • Medical ethical standards

The World Medical Association - www.wma.net

 “It is unethical for physicians to participate in capital punishment, in any way, or during any step of the execution process”, Resolution adopted in 2000.


The World Psychiatric Association -- www.wpanet.org/home.html

 “Under no circumstances should psychiatrists participate in legally authorized executions nor participate in assessments of competency to be executed.” Declaration of Madrid, 1996.


The International Council of Nurses -- www.icn.ch

“The International Council of Nurses (ICN) urges its member national nurses’ associations (NNAs) to lobby for abolition of the death penalty; to actively oppose torture and participation by nurses in executions; and to develop mechanisms to provide nurses with confidential advice and support in caring for prisoners sentenced to death or subjected to torture.”


American Medical Association -- www.ama-assn.org

“A physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution. Physician participation in execution is defined generally as actions which would fall into one or more of the following categories: (1) an action which would directly cause the death of the condemned; (2) an action which would assist, supervise, or contribute to the ability of another individual to directly cause the death of the condemned; (3) an action which could automatically cause an execution to be carried out on a condemned prisoner.”


American Nurses Association -- http://nursingworld.org

“The obligation to refrain from causing death is longstanding and should not be breached even when legally sanctioned. Nurses should refrain from participation in capital punishment and not take part in assessment, supervision or monitoring of the procedure or the prisoner; procuring, prescribing or preparing medications or solutions; inserting the intravenous catheter; injecting the lethal solution; and attending or witnessing the execution as a nurse. The fact that capital punishment is currently supported in many segments of society does not override the obligation of nurses to uphold the ethical mandates of the profession.”


National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians -- http://www.naemt.org/

“The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) is strongly opposed to participation in capital punishment by an EMT, Paramedic or other emergency medical professional. Participation in executions is viewed as contrary to the fundamental goals and ethical obligations of emergency medical services.”


American Society of Anesthesiologists -- www.asahq.org

“Although lethal injection mimics certain technical aspects of the practice of anesthesia, capital punishment in any form is not the practice of medicine. Legal execution should not necessitate participation by an anesthesiologist or any other physician.”