Bill Haslam, Governor(R) of Tennessee, recently signed a bill that brings back the use of the electric chair for executions, in the event that the necessary drugs for lethal injection are not able to be procured. The issue of obtaining the necessary lethal injection drugs has become necessary due to a recent boycott of the drugs due to European action against the measure.
This boycott has become dire due to the disapproval of the American public of lethal injection as a means of executing the death penalty. Many believe that this is a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This amendment forbids “cruel and unusual punishment,” and those who disagree with the death penalty argue that this form of execution is not in adherence to these specifications. Those who disapprove of this method of execution argue that enough pain can be caused by lethal injection that the limits of “cruel and unusual” should apply to these cases, and the new legislation in Tennessee allows the use of electrocution to be administered instead of lethal injection for those sentenced to this fate.
There are several reasons that lethal injection drugs have been the subject of concern with regard to the cruel and unusual punishment ruling. One is the condition of the inmate’s veins. Many convicted criminals who have been sentenced to death row are former, or current, drug users. Because of this fact, their veins may have collapsed due to abuse of illegal narcotics, like heroin. The danger of collapsed veins is that executioners may have difficulty in finding a vein that is close enough to the surface to properly administrate the drugs effectively.
A recent execution that was unsuccessfully administered in Oklahoma is also the cause of Tennessee’s decision to bring back the use of the electric chair in the case of the death penalty. In the case of Clayton Lockett, an attempted execution fell through when the lethal injection drugs were improperly administered, and did not take effect. Lockett’s vein had collapsed, which caused an insufficient amount of the drugs to be absorbed into his bloodstream. After this occurred, the doctor who was present for the execution noted that there were not enough drugs left to go through with the procedure as planned, and Lockett died 43 minutes later. Witnesses who were on the scene noted that Lockett appeared to still be conscious and in pain before he died.
Some states offer a choice to inmates on whether or not they want to be executed by lethal injection or electric chair due to the concerns of humaneness regarding the drugs that are administered. For a lethal injection process, three drugs are used, and the dosages are vital to the process. The pharmacies from which these drugs are obtained are kept secret, which can increase the chances of error in terms of dosage or impurities for each drug. If the dosage for a drug in the lethal injection procedure is too high or too low, the inmate can potentially experience severe pain before dying, which has led to concern regarding whether or not lethal injection is humane.
President Barack Obama has begun an investigation into a series of failed lethal injection attempts, and several states around the country have taken action towards making executions safer and more humane. After an overwhelming vote in favor of the motion, the governor of Tennessee has signed a bill that brings back the electric chair as a mode of execution for the state.
By Joseph Chisarick