Who introduced lethal injections as a death penalty?

As an execution by the Lethal injection or lethal injection is a form of execution of the death penalty in which the convicted person is injected with a lethal poison or medication in a lethal dose. It has been used increasingly since the 1980s and is intended to replace the electric chair, gallows, shooting, gas chamber, and other methods as a humane form of execution. It was first introduced and mainly used in the United States.


The lethal injection room in the San Quentin State Prison

The person to be executed is fixed on a couch and receives an indwelling venous cannula in both arms. Only one of these is required to carry out the execution; the other serves as a replacement in the event that the first cannula should become unusable.

The drugs administered have the following effects one after the other: At the beginning, a rapid loss of consciousness is triggered and then death through paralysis of the respiratory muscles, followed by a depolarization of the heart muscle. The barbiturate thiopental is used for the narcotic effect, pancuronium bromide, suxamethonium chloride or tubocurarine chloride as a muscle relaxant and potassium chloride as a heart paralyzing agent. Death usually occurs within five minutes, but the total procedure can take up to three quarters of an hour. The individual active ingredients are not already mixed outside the body, as this could lead to the precipitation of poorly or insoluble substances, but are injected one after the other.

The lethal injection thus takes place in three steps:

  1. The convict is anesthetized, with the dose of the anesthetic being set so high that it alone could be fatal.
  2. All muscles except the heart become paralyzed, suffocation begins.
  3. The heart stops beating, the person dies.

The cannula supply lines lead through the wall to an adjoining room from which at least two prison officers each press a button, one of which initiates the execution. Concrete feelings of guilt on the part of the prison officers concerned are to be avoided in this way. The injections themselves are now administered under computer control. Between each injection, the cannula is rinsed with an isotonic saline solution so that undesired precipitation reactions in the cannula do not occur later. Most American medical professionals refuse to attend executions. In each case, however, a doctor is present to determine the death of the condemned after the execution.


The question arises again and again whether killing with lethal injection is actually painless. The anesthetic thiopental works very quickly, but only for a relatively short time (5–15 minutes), which is why there is a risk that the convicted person will regain consciousness and die in agony from the effects of the subsequent overdosed medication. For these reasons, veterinarians use long-acting barbiturates when euthanizing animals. In some cases, the administration of thiopental can result in the person appearing outwardly unconscious, but still being fully conscious. In this case, fully conscious, the person would experience both the paralysis of their respiratory muscles and the heartbeat lowering effects of potassium chloride, the injection of which into the bloodstream is very painful on its own.

Sometimes there are also technical complications. The introduction of the needles can cause difficulties, in some cases suitable veins could only be made accessible after a full hour. In some cases, the body reacted with surprisingly violent reactions to the drugs, such as the case of Robyn Lee Park, who choked and gasped for ten minutes for ten minutes when he was executed in Oklahoma in 1992. In the beginning, the injection tube and needle were not rinsed with isotonic saline solution between the doses of the individual drug solutions. Precipitation caused by the clash of the individual drugs made the tube impermeable and the execution had to be interrupted.

On June 12, 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled that those sentenced to death may sue US state execution records if they constitute an unusual and cruel punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.[1] In Missouri and South Dakota, inmates obtained court access to cessation of lethal injections. Against this, lawsuits in Florida, Kentucky, and Texas have been denied.[2] In the states of Florida and California, lethal injection was suspended on December 15, 2006 after a condemned convict lived in Florida for over 30 minutes and died in agony.


Lethal injection in the USA

In February 1977 in the United States, Stanley Deutsch, anesthetist from the University of Oklahoma, took up the idea of ​​drugged execution and suggested the drug combination described. Charlie Brooks was the first delinquent to be executed on December 7, 1982 in Texas using the new method; the first in Oklahoma followed that same year. Lethal injection is now the main method of execution in 36 of 37 states. Some time after it was first used, the process also found acceptance outside of the United States. China introduced it in 1997, Guatemala in 1998, the Philippines in 1999 and Thailand in 2003. Other states have now made lethal injection legal, but have not adopted it in practice.

In the case of Baze v. On April 16, 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark judgment on Rees, declaring execution by lethal injection to be fundamentally legal. The execution method is not a "cruel and unusual punishment" and thus does not violate the eighth amendment to the American Constitution, as the plaintiffs, two death row inmates from Kentucky, had argued.

Immediately after the verdict was announced, the governor of Virginia lifted a moratorium on executions that had been in place since the fall.[3] No one had been executed in the United States for more than six months; The states had wanted to await the judgment of the Supreme Court before the further execution of the death penalty.

The verdict was passed with a clear majority of seven to two votes.[3] Previously, statements by the highest judges had indicated a split opinion at the Supreme Court. Judge David Souter indicated that lower courts might be asked to look for painless alternatives. That would mean that executions would be put on hold for years. While conservative judge Antonin Scalia asked why the "least painful method" should be chosen to execute a murderer, liberal judge John Paul Stevens said he was "terribly concerned" that lethal injection was "excruciating pain" could trigger.

The manufacturer and sole supplier to US correctional facilities in Thiopental, Hospira, had delivery bottlenecks in 2010 and stopped the production and sale of thiopental in January 2011, so that executions with lethal injection in nine states had to be temporarily suspended or postponed. In December 2011, an EU-wide, uniform export license requirement for thiopental and all other short and medium-term barbiturates came into force; from then on, export from the EU is only possible with a special permit.[4][5][6]

Lethal injection in the People's Republic of China

Since 1997, executions have been carried out in China using a combination of various active ingredients that has been kept secret. The deadly substances are administered with a single syringe instead of the usual infusion. The supposedly painless death is said to occur between 30 and 60 seconds after the injection. The Kunming People's Court was in charge of developing this method of execution.

No further details have been obtained about this method of execution since such information is subject to state secrecy in China. This new, painless lethal injection is criticized by parts of the judiciary as "too easy a death" for criminals. Amnesty International fears that the number of executions will continue to rise in connection with the newly deployed mobile execution buses of the Chinese express courts.

Application in National Socialism

Lethal injection in its current form, as described above, has only been in use in the United States since the 1980s. The basic idea of ​​lethal injection is, however, older. In Germany it was suggested by Karl Brandt for use in the euthanasia program of the National Socialists, where it was used - among other methods. In addition, members of the SS killed sick people and prisoners sentenced to death in the Auschwitz concentration camp by injecting phenol and other poisons directly into the heart muscle. In the Buchenwald concentration camp, too, large numbers of prisoners were killed with similar injections in the so-called “bunker”, the detention area of ​​the camp, as was the case in the Mauthausen concentration camp.[7] A prominent victim was the former leader of the SPD parliamentary group in the Reichstag, Ernst Heilmann, who was killed on April 3, 1940 by SS-Hauptscharführer Martin Sommer with a poison injection.

Web links


  1. ↑ JURIST: Supreme Court allows death row lethal injection challenge to proceed, June 12, 2006
  2. ↑ LEGAL: Kentucky Supreme Court upholds lethal injection protocol, November 23, 2006
  3. 3,03,1sueddeutsche.de of April 16, 2008
  4. ↑ http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/0,1518,720126,00.html Spiegel from September 28, 2010
  5. ↑ G. Bohemian: EU restricts supply of lethal injection substance. In: Southgerman newspaper. December 11, 2011, accessed on December 12, 2011 (HTML, German).
  6. No poison for US lethal injections: Germany says no. In: Doctors newspaper online. January 24, 2011, accessed on December 12, 2011 (HTML, German).
  7. ↑ http: //www.mauthausen-memorial.at/db/admin/de/show_article.php? & Fromlist = 1 & carticle = 54 Report from the Mauthausen concentration camp