After it took convicted murderer Angel Nieves Diaz twice the normal amount of time to die in December, then-Gov. Jeb Bush halted all Florida executions and arranged a panel to determine “whether improvements can be made to the way lethal injections are administered.” When the panel gives Gov. Charlie Crist its findings on March 1, one hopes they will have realized that improvement is impossible: It is lethal injection itself that is the problem.
According to the Associated Press, medical reports showed that Diaz had chemical burns in his arms, suggesting that the needles used to inject the cocktail of lethal drugs into his system went through his veins into soft tissue. This could have caused Diaz excruciating pain, according to experts who testified in interviews with the AP. The reason why such a thing happened was best stated by the executioner himself when he told the panel, “I have no medical training and no qualifications.”
To be fair, the executioner had received lethal injection training, but that was seven years ago. Another member of the medical team who placed the needles into Diaz’s arms said the team had more than 10 years experience and successfully performed more than five executions. All well and good, but hardly solace for Diaz as he lay waiting to die for 34 minutes.
Doctors on the panel told the press they want execution teams to be more highly trained. Peter Springer, one of three medical doctors on the panel and a director of Volusia County Emergency Medical Services, told the AP, “If lethal injections proceed, I think one of the recommendations the panel may put forward is that medically-competent individuals become part of the process.” Of course, due to the Hippocratic oath, doctors and medical personnel are forbidden from taking part, even indirectly, in the purposeful killing of a human being.
For the panel to “improve the way lethal injections are administered,” they will have to guarantee that no prisoner suffers the way Diaz did, because such suffering – accidental or not – is in violation of the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. In order to avoid violating the Eighth Amendment, the panel will have to ethically figure out a way to ensure medical training for execution teams, which is a sticky issue due to the Hippocratic oath.
Such intractable problems can only stem from bad policies. Regardless of how one feels about the death penalty in principle, it is becoming a more problematic policy every time – and through every method – it’s used. Frankly, the only way for Florida to fix the death penalty is to stop using it.