ACLU Report Calls For Greater Oversight Of Texas Lethal Injection Protocols

April 4, 2011 11:09 am

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State Plans To Use Pentobarbital In Tuesday Execution Despite Failure To Assess Drug’s Risks

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AUSTIN – The state of Texas risks causing excruciating pain during executions by failing to subject a new drug it plans on using in lethal injections to expert analysis or public scrutiny, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University Law School.

According to the report, the state’s planned use of pentobarbital in a new three drug protocol beginning with Tuesday’s scheduled execution of Cleve Foster is particularly troubling given the concerns of prominent anesthesiologists that it could lead to an excruciatingly painful death. The report, “Regulating Death in the Lone Star State: Texas Law Protects Lizards From Needless Suffering, But Not Human Beings,” also highlights how Texas’ lax attitude regarding the taking of human life contrasts sharply with its enactment of detailed regulations to ensure that animals suffer minimal pain when they are euthanized.

“The failure of this drug in its intended use would cause everyone’s worst surgical nightmare: total paralysis and excruciating pain,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. “Expert assessment and governmental transparency should be minimum requirements before this new drug protocol is used.”

Due to a national shortage of sodium thiopental, part of the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections across the country, Texas and several other states have scrambled to secure execution drugs leading to controversial changes in the way death row prisoners are put to death. The report reveals that there is no evidence Texas has ever engaged in a meaningful assessment of whether pentobarbital can or should be used in combination with the other two drugs administered in lethal injections, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Animal euthanasia laws in Texas mandate strict certification requirements for euthanasia technicians and regulate acceptable methods of intravenous euthanasia down to the correct dosage per kilogram of an animal’s body weight. Texas legislators, however, have failed to enact any legislation to ensure that the individuals responsible for extinguishing human life are properly trained and that the drugs they administer are effective and humane.

“We are calling on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Governor Rick Perry and the courts to stay pending executions until the legislature enacts measures that provide at least the same protections to human beings condemned to die as are provided to sick or unwanted animals,” said John Holdridge, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. “The judiciary should also require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to allow for public scrutiny and expert assessment of its new lethal injection protocol before it is used on human beings.”

A copy of the report is available online at:

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