How lethal injection reform constitutes impermissible research on prisoners

Abstract

This essay exposes how recent attempts at lethal injection reform have involved unethical and illegal research on prisoners. States are varying the doses and types of drugs used, developing methods designed for non-medical professionals to administer medical procedures, and gathering data or making provisions for the gathering of data to learn from executions gone wrong. When individual prisoners are executed under these conditions, states are conducting research on them. Conducting research or experimentation on prisoners in the process of reform is problematic because it violates ethical frameworks and state laws. The Supreme Court has recently taken up the challenge of elucidating the standard for determining the constitutionality of lethal injection. If the Court suggests an approach to lethal injection reform that is akin to some of the more thoughtful and cautious approaches other courts have proposed, the Court's decision may also contravene state laws or ethical precepts regarding research with prisoners. Thus, this paper provides important limitations on the kinds of reform that may be permissible and outlines the open questions that must be addressed before it can be determined whether the risks and uncertainties involved in lethal injection can be remedied.

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