US News & World Report:
Just before he died, Michael Lee Wilson said he could feel his whole body burning as the drug meant to kill him coursed through his veins.
He was sentenced to death by the state of Oklahoma for a murder he committed 20 years earlier, in which he and three other men bludgeoned his co-worker with a metal baseball bad. Death penalty opponents point to the final words, arguing that lethal injection drugs are inhumane and can cause gruesome, unimaginable suffering.
Oddly enough, in a conflicting, little known reality, is that this same drug they often criticize – pentobarbital – is the exact same one the so-called “Death with Dignity” movement is trying desperately to access so that terminally ill patients can hasten their deaths in what they have characterized as a peaceful and dignified experience.
In both situations, pentobarbital has been acquired through compounding pharmacies that aren’t heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Tamara Tabo, head of the Center for Legal Pedagogy at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, states: “I don’t think many people who are casual supporters of the Death With Dignity movement are aware that there are these sorts of risks.” The issue is taking on a renewed relevance, with the usage of medically assisted suicide and capital punishment seemingly headed in opposite directions. California recently became the fifth state to allow medically assisted – behind Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana – while 19 states have abolished the death penalty and two Supreme Court justices have suggested it is time to end the practice.
“People of goodwill – whether they support or oppose the death penalty – think that if you’re going to have capital punishment then you need to execute people i n the quickest, most painless way possible,”
says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
People drink a solution in which the drug has been dissolved and then fall into a coma within five to 10 minutes. The drug depresses the part of the brain that controls respiration, which causes them to stop breathing, generally within 20 to 30 minutes, according to “Compassion & Choices”, a nonprofit that works to expand aid-in-dying laws.
“Everyone has a picture that it’s simple, clean, easy and you fall asleep”. But that’s unfortunately not always so.”says Tamara Tabo.
The most recent report from Oregon shows that, since that state’s aid-in-dying enactment in 1997 to the end of 2014, at least 859 people have died a legal medically induced death. At least six of those people regained consciousness after ingesting the medications, and at least 22 others regurgitated it. The time between unconsciousness and death ranged from one minute to just over four days.
At least 485 people have legally used medication to hasten their death since the state’s Death with Dignity Act took effect in 2009. At least seven people regurgitated the medication, and at least one had a seizure. The longest recorded amount of time between ingesting the medication and death was 41 hours. In 2009, at least two people regained consciousness after ingesting the medication.
Excerpted from an article in
U.S. News and World Report