Academic Article

The Physician in the Execution Chamber: No Such Thing as the Normal Pain of Dying

By Joel Zivot, California Western International Law Journal , on 1 February 2024

Published in October 2023.

For capital punishment to be lawful in the United States of America, it must occur without cruelty, a requirement of the traditional reading of the Eighth Amendment. There has never been a consensus on what form of execution is cruel, although some historic practices are shockingly barbaric to modern sensibilities— I think of the “draw and quarter” technique. The family of the murdered victim may fairly argue that the murderous behavior should be the minimum degree of cruelty meted out. But western countries eschew that standard and seek moderate forms, partly to deter by punishment and partly as a forfeit of the murderer’s life for the victim’s life when execution is allowed in that state. Certainly, there is substantial support for continuation of execution in states that allow it. The judges must be respectful of that, but still, they must respect the 8th amendment. At present, the prevalent method of execution in the United States is “lethal injection” using injectable medicines in very high doses that are repurposed to kill the prisoner. Because it is impossible to ask an executed individual about the cruelty experienced during their own death, the state instead relies on the empathy of witnesses to gauge the cruelty of a prisoner’s execution. Lethal injection was expected to be a bloodless execution and aimed to eliminate the visible appearance of cruelty, sometimes through the use of a paralytic.

  • Document type Academic Article
  • Countries list United States