NORMAN — As fervently as some may support the death penalty by lethal injection, when the process becomes the least bit messy, most of us would prefer to hide.
Oklahoma began lethal injection in America. And the state has brought the nation the latest sickening example of the method’s problems. On the evening of April 29, Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett’s execution went wrong. It was unclear when the sedative rendered him unconscious. He writhed and clenched his teeth, appearing to struggle against his holds as prison officials injected his vein with the drugs.
Prison officials reacted quickly as Lockett’s execution turned from an antiseptic medical procedure into a debacle. They hastily pulled the execution chamber’s curtain shut, lest the witnesses present be forced to watch the condemned actually fight to hang on to life.
That’s not how we like this show to go. In America, we like the capital punishment to be more like a monitored death in hospice care, a permanent sedative ushering a long good night.
That dishonesty is the basis for how we’ve reached a legal and moral conundrum. Increasingly, states are taking steps to keep the drugs they are using a secret, along with the identities of the scantly regulated compounding pharmacies where they buy the drugs and even how the payments are being made. This makes it impossible to determine whether or not the new, ever evolving lethal drug cocktails administered meet the constitutional standard of sparing the condemned from “cruel or unusual” punishment.
The American way of execution is in legal crisis — that much is obvious regardless of whether one is for or against the death penalty. States can’t defend the use of drugs they won’t name, nor can citizens demand that justice be done to those on death row.