HARRISBURG – With the start of a new legislative session under a new governor little more than a month away, Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Delaware/Montgomery) released the details of an agreement he reached with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections that he hopes will continue under the next administration.
Leach previously introduced H.B. 1477, a bill that would ban pancuronium bromide, one of the three drugs used to execute death row inmates in Pennsylvania. During the execution procedure, pancuronium bromide, a paralytic, is used in conjunction with phenobarbital, an anesthetizing barbiturate, and sodium chloride, an agent that stops the heart. Leach introduced H.B. 1477 amid concerns that if dispensed incorrectly, the drugs may have a severely painful and traumatizing effect on people being executed.
“If the barbiturate is not administered correctly, which frequently happens because doctors don’t perform the procedure, the person being executed is in horrific pain. But they can’t react to that pain due to the effects of the paralytic,” Leach explained. “The paralytic does not kill or anesthetize the defendant, so the only possible reason for using it is to mask pain, sparing witnesses from the trauma of seeing the painful effects sodium chloride has on a person’s body.”
This year, the non-profit group Amnesty International posted on its Web site links to research that confirmed Leach’s claims. “A number of lethal injections in the USA have been botched and caused visible suffering. In addition, a number of recent court challenges have been based on inherent potential problems with the method, notably that the use of a paralysing agent in the lethal mixture could mask any suffering caused by the execution,” the group stated. “Because of the potential for masking pain, the American Veterinary Medical Association has rejected the use of paralyzing agents like pancuronium bromide in animal euthanasia. In states like Tennessee and Texas pancuronium bromide is banned for use on animals; yet it continues to be used on humans.”
In an agreement reached with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Leach withdrew the legislation in return for the use of a monitoring instrument during executions in Pennsylvania. The instrument, called a Bispectral Index (BIS) monitor, measures the consciousness of defendants during execution. The fatal and potentially painful drugs would not be administered until the defendant is determined to be unconscious and incapable of feeling pain, according to the BIS monitor’s reading.
Earlier this year, the Department of Corrections confirmed that the use of a consciousness monitor has become part of the protocol used for all future executions in Pennsylvania. Leach expressed his gratitude for the department’s cooperation and his hope that the next administration will mandate that the same protocols be followed.
“The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from cruel and unusual punishment, and unfortunately that standard was not upheld before incorporating the use of monitors in execution protocols,” Leach said. “Therefore, I implore Governor-Elect Corbett to follow the precedent that has already been set by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections under the current administration, and continue the practice of executing defendants in a fast-acting, humane way.”