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Human rights law is predicated on recognition of the
inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all people, including
even those who have committed terrible crimes. It prohibits torture and other
cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. Human Rights Watch believes these
rights cannot be reconciled with the death penalty, a form of punishment unique
in its cruelty and finality, and a punishment inevitably and universally
plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. Thus our first recommendation
is that states and the federal government abolish the death penalty. If
governments do not choose to abolish capital punishment, they must still heed
human rights principles by ensuring their execution methods are chosen and
administered to minimize the risk a condemned prisoner will experience pain and
suffering. As state lethal injection protocols have never been subjected to
serious medical and scientific scrutiny, Human Rights Watch recommends that
each state suspends its lethal injection executions until it has convened a
panel of anesthesiologists, pharmacologists, doctors, corrections officials,
prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges to determine whether or not its
lethal injection executions as currently practiced are indeed the most humane
form of execution.
- Review lethal injection protocols by soliciting input from
medical and scientific experts, and by holding public hearings and seeking
- Stop using drugs that do not minimize the pain and
suffering of the condemned inmate. Ensuring the comfort of witnesses and
the executioners should not be a determining factor in which drugs are
chosen for lethal injections. More specifically, discontinue the use of
pancuronium bromide or any other neuromuscular blocking agent, because it
masks any pain and suffering endured by the inmate. Replace potassium
chloride with drugs that do not cause excruciating pain.
- Anesthesia must be used in all lethal injections that
involve painful or paralyzing drugs. If anesthesia is used, ensure that
trained personnel are present and able to monitor the prisoners
consciousness to ensure he is deeply and fully anesthetized before any
subsequent painful drugs are administered. Such personnel would stand
beside the prisoner throughout the execution.
- Keep, retain, and make publicly available execution
records, including execution logs, autopsy reports, and toxicology
- Conduct periodic reviews of lethal injection protocols to
ensure they reflect medical and pharmacological developments.
- Abolish the death penalty.
- If the death penalty is not abolished, suspend all lethal
injection executions until each state convenes a blue ribbon panel of
medical, scientific, legal, judicial, and correctional experts authorized
to review and recommend changes to lethal injection execution protocols as
necessary to ensure the protocol adopted causes the inmate the least
possible pain and suffering.
- Require corrections departments to adopt the method of
execution, including the specific method of lethal injection, that causes
the inmate the least possible pain and suffering.