How Does Lethal Injection Work? What Happens If It Fails?

How Does Lethal Injection Work? What Happens If It Fails?


The death penalty is enforced in 32 states
in America, and capital offenses include things such as treason, espionage, and death resulting
from aircraft hijacking. However, committing murder is by far the most
common reason that people find themselves on death row. Over the years, execution methods have included
everything from hanging, to firing squad, and even a gas chamber, but today all 32 states
that have the death penalty use lethal injection, as it’s considered the most humane way to
end a person’s life. So just how humane is it, and what happens
when someone is given the life ending jab? Let’s find out, in this episode of The Infographics
Show: How Does Lethal Injection Work? There have been 1,472 executions in America
since 1976. Of those executions, 3 were by firing squad,
3 by hanging, 11 by gas chamber, 158 by electrocution, and 1,297 by lethal injection. Lethal injection is the practice of injecting
one or more drugs into a person to cause them to die immediately. It was first developed in the United States,
and is now a preferred method of execution in China, Thailand, Guatemala, Taiwan, the
Maldives, and Vietnam. Once the person’s heart stops, death is
pronounced. In most cases, this takes around seven minutes,
although, if there are complications, it can sometimes take longer. So what’s actually injected into a person,
to bring on cardiac arrest? According to the Death Penalty Information
Center in Washington D.C., the process for lethal injection in most states, involves
injecting three separate shots, all of which are delivered via intravenous drips. The first injection is an anesthetic called
sodium thiopental, a strong barbiturate used to send a person into a deep unconsciousness
state, so pain cannot be felt. The drug affects a number of neurotransmitters,
causing brain activity to be depressed and blocking the actions of brain receptors, therefore
causing a dormant non reactive state, typically within 30 seconds. This anesthetic is intended to last throughout
the lethal injection process, so when the following injections are administered, the
person is completely unaware. The tubes used to administer the drugs are
flushed clean with saline, and then the second injection, this time of pancuronium bromide,
is administered. This drug acts as a neuromuscular blocker,
preventing communication between the nervous system and muscles. As the person has no muscular control, a state
of paralysis is reached. The diaphragm, a muscle used to pull air into
the lungs, stops working, causing breathing to cease. One last saline flush before the final injection
is administered, this time, potassium chloride. This disrupts the electrical signaling of
the heart, stopping it from beating and ending the person’s life. According to a 2002 study in the Journal of
Forensic Science, the average time from the first injection to the heart stopping, is
8.4 minutes. But what about rare cases where things go
wrong and the process takes longer than anticipated? Though the general consensus is that lethal
injection is the most painless and humane way to end a person’s life, there have been
some botched attempts. We researched some cases that have made the
headlines over the years. In 1985, Charles Walker was convicted of two
counts of murder and one count of armed robbery. He was a death row inmate at the Menard Correctional
Center in Chester, Illinois, until September 12th, 1990, when Walker requested a last meal
of pan-fried wild rabbit, with gravy made from the pan drippings, biscuits, and a dessert
of blackberry pie with whipped cream. His execution was scheduled for after dinner. But the execution was prolonged because of
human error and equipment failure. According to Gary Sutterfield, an engineer
who assisted with Walker’s execution, a kink in the plastic tubing going into his arm,
stopped the flow of chemicals into Walker’s body. Additionally, the intravenous needle was pointing
at Walker’s fingers, instead of his heart. Walker’s execution took far longer than
it should have, and he suffered excruciating pain throughout. Next we have Joseph Cannon, who on April 23,
1998, prepared for his death in a Texas jail. Cannon was convicted of attempted rape and
murder in 1977, when he was just 17. He spent more than half his life on death
row before facing the needle. He made his final statement, and the execution
process began, but a vein in Cannon’s arm collapsed and the needle popped out. As the witnesses looked on, Cannon laid back
and exclaimed “It’s come undone.” The curtains were then drawn for 15 minutes
so the officials dealing with Cannon’s execution could fix the problem. When they eventually reopened the curtains,
Cannon made a second final statement and the execution was completed. And finally a case that hit the headlines
this year, Doyle Lee Hamm who faced the death penalty at Donaldson Correctional Facility,
in Bessemer, Alabama. Hamm had been at Donaldson since 1987, after
a jury found him guilty of shooting and killing a motel clerk during a robbery. But Hamm had terminal cancer and a history
of intravenous drug use, leaving his veins feeble and compromised. The attempted execution was halted after medical
personnel were unable to find a vein, despite trying to insert needles in the groin, ankles,
and lower legs for nearly 2 hours. Dr. Mark Heath, the doctor responsible for
examining Hamm, was quoted on NBC news as saying: “During this time Mr. Hamm began to
hope that the doctor would succeed in obtaining IV access so that Mr. Hamm could ‘get it over
with’ because he preferred to die rather than to continue to experience the ongoing severe
pain.” Hamm survived to tell the tale and it’s
not been confirmed whether or not, he will need to face another round of injections to
end his life. These are severe and unfortunate cases, and
though of course they are in the minority, things do go wrong. According to the Death Penalty Information
Center, a national non-profit organization providing information and data on capital
punishment, 7.12% of lethal injection executions between 1890 to 2010, were botched. Capital punishment has always been a controversial
topic and whichever execution method the state decides is most humane, it is likely there
will always be the occasional problem. As we’ve learnt today, the method of Lethal
injection puts a person to sleep before inducing a cardiac arrest and most of the time it’s
a straightforward procedure – a small pinprick, a combination of three substances…and then
lights out. Can you think of a more humane method for
carrying out the death penalty? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video
called Illegal Things That YOU Do Every Day. Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!.

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