The execution of a California man was postponed Tuesday after prison officials said they could not satisfy the requirements set by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, according to The Washington Post.
The prisoner, Michael Morales, has been on death row since he was convicted of murdering a 17-year-old girl in 1983.
Fogel made his decision after Morales’ lawyers argued lethal injection violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment because there have been cases where the person being executed continues breathing for short time after receiving the lethal injection. It is unclear whether these people can feel pain if they are not fully sedated, according to The Washington Post.
“I suppose lethal injections are superior to stonings, hangings, firing squads, gas chambers and electric chairs. But, superior for whom?” said Professor Richard Stack of the School of Communication. “We hide executions - they’re done in the dark of night in the remote corners of remote prisons - and seek human ways to kill offenders so as not to violate the sensibilities of the more enlightened members of society.”
In his Feb. 14 ruling, Fogel said executioners could either have an anesthesiologist verify if the prisoner was unconscious before moving ahead with the lethal injection or physically administer fatal amounts of barbiturates or sedatives to Morales. According to an article from the LA Times, this could extend the execution length to 45 minutes.
Brian Forst, a justice, law and society professor at AU said most proponents of the death penalty are inclined to believe that “the small amounts of pain and suffering involved in these distinctions pale in contrast to the degree of pain and suffering the capital offenders imposed on their victims.”
Forst said that the longer the duration, the more pain and suffering are increased.
“For most abolitionists, the death penalty is a fundamental violation of human rights, and pain only worsens the violation,” he said.
Prison officials complied with Fogel’s ruling and arranged for two anesthesiologists to assist in the execution, scheduled for Tuesday morning. However, the doctors later backed out, claiming ethical reasons, according to the Associated Press.
“Physicians are healers, not executioners. The doctor-patient relationship depends upon the inviolate principle that a doctor uses his or her medical expertise only for the benefit of patients,” according to the Web site for the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
Prison officials were forced to move onto the other option given by Fogel, physically administering a fatal amount of the sedative to the prisoner. Fogel said the injection had to be completed by someone licensed in the state of California to give intravenous injections, and officials were unable to find anyone willing before the day ended.
The issue will ultimately be decided upon by the Supreme Court, which has decided to hear the claim of a Florida death row inmate. The inmate says his receiving lethal injection would violate human rights because he would experience excessive pain, reported The Washington Post.
Carolina Barrett, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and member of AU’s Campaign to End the Death Penalty, said the group has not done any official organizing around this specific issue. An e-mail including an Associated Press article addressing the Morales case was sent out to all members to raise awareness. Barrett said she hopes this will be another small step towards full abolishment of the death penalty.
“Anything that gets people thinking and talking about the death penalty is good,” she said.