Who Performs Lethal Injection Executions In US? Volunteers, Apparently.

A file photo from 2008 shows a gurney in Huntsville, Texas, where inmates received lethal injections of drugs in a room decorated in a fetching shade of green. Eight people were executed in Texas in 2023. The state policies mention a "drug team," who are not employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Pat Sullivan/AP
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Eight times, a execution team in an Idaho prison tried insert an intravenous line into a vein to make it possible to give a lethal injection to condemned inmate Thomas Creech.  But they had no success at all i finding a suitable vein, giving Creech a temporary reprieve while they figured out what to do next.

That incident last week raised pointed questions, such as: Who actually serves on the teams used for executions by the Idaho Department of Correction?

“They’re all VOLUNTEERS,” Creech’s attorney, Jonah Horwitz, said in a message sent to NPR, citing Idaho’s execution protocol.

That detail may come as a surprise. But other states have similar arrangements — and in Idaho and elsewhere, it’s also routine to protect the identities of people on an execution medical team.

Here’s a rundown of questions about how lethal injections work in Idaho and other states that have recently carried out executions:

Idaho’s official policy requires candidates for an execution team to have at least three years of experience in jobs such as an emergency medical technician, nurse, military corpsman or physician’s assistant.

As of late 2022, Horwitz said, the Idaho Department of Correction said its medical team had six members: four EMTs and two registered nurses. Their identities were not revealed.

The names of people on the execution team “will be treated with the highest degree of confidentiality,” according to the state’s rules, which list only a handful of officials as knowing the team members’ identities.

Members of the team are required to attend at least 10 training sessions each year, although officials have the ability to revise that number. Team members receive a “small honorarium,” a department spokesperson said.

Last year, Idaho became the fifth state to provide for a firing squad to execute prisoners, an option that states have adopted as they face difficulties in acquiring lethal injection drugs.

But that alternative comes with its own complications. The state wants to “retrofit F Block, our current execution chamber, and accommodate a firing squad,” Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt said in an update to his staff.

“Those initial efforts were unsuccessful because contractors who would engage in this type of work have expressed their unwillingness to work on a project related to executions,” Tewalt added, “but efforts are ongoing.”

“A physician must not participate in a legally authorized execution,” the American Medical Association says in its Code of Medical Ethics.

“When physicians participate in capital punishment, they are being utilized to intentionally inflict harm by using their medical knowledge and skills to forcibly cause death,” AMA media relations manager R.J. Mills told NPR.

“Physicians who participate in capital punishment take an active role as agents of the state, not as advocates for the condemned, even if their intent is to minimize suffering.”

In Idaho, for instance, the protocol requires a licensed physician to be present, but it also adds that the doctor “will not be a member of any execution specialty teams … and will not participate in the execution in any way.”

Capital punishment has increasingly been criticized for disproportionately harming people of color; opponents also say exonerations of people on death row expose dangerous flaws in the way states administer the ultimate penalty.

“Since 1973, more than 195 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

In 2023, only five states carried out executions and seven imposed new death sentences — numbers that are tied for the lowest in 20 years, the center said in its annual recap.

“The majority of states, 29, have now either abolished the death penalty or paused executions by executive action,” the center said.

Source: NPR.


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