In Texas, they wouldn't kill a dog like that

A new Amnesty International report on death by lethal injection urges doctors and nurses not to participate in state-ordered executions in breach of their ethical oath to do no harm. It also examines the legal and ethical implications of lethal injection.

The technique involves injecting prisoners with massive doses of three chemicals: sodium thiopental to induce unconsciousness, pancuronium bromide to paralyze muscles, and potassium chloride to stop the heart. But medical experts have raised concerns that if inadequate levels of sodium thiopental are administered, the anesthetic effect can wear off before the prisoner's heart stops, putting him at risk of excruciating pain as the chemicals enter the veins producing cardiac arrest. And due to the paralysis caused by pancuronium bromide, he would be unable to communicate his distress.

For these reasons, the American Veterinary Medical Association has decided that the chemical cocktail used for euthanizing dogs and cats should not include a paralyzing agent. Texas, which leads the nation in executions, has outlawed pancuronium bromide in the euthanasia of cats and dogs because of the potential for pain -- but it's still using the chemical to kill human beings.

"Medical professionals are trained to work for patients' well-being, not to participate in executions ordered by the state," said Jim Welsh, Amnesty's health and human rights coordinator. "The simplest way of resolving the ethical dilemmas posed by using doctors and nurses to kill is by abolishing the death penalty."

Since 1982, at least 1,000 people have been executed by lethal injection around the world: three in Guatemala, four in Thailand, seven in the Philippines, more than 900 in the United States (including about 400 in Texas alone), and up to several thousand in China, where executions remain a state secret. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review the constitutionality of lethal injections.

(Photo of lethal injection kit from Amnesty International)