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Will Russell Bucklew's execution be cruel and unusual?

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The state of Missouri is planning on executing condemned inmate William Bucklew at 12:01 a.m. on May 21, 2014 by lethal injection. Bucklew suffers with congenital cavernous hemangioma resulting in benign tumors growing in his airway passages, throat and nose causing chronic pain and impaired breathing. These tumors also bleed simply by being touched. Dr. Joel Zivot, a medical expert in the Bucklew case, believes that Bucklew will suffer a cruel and unusual death during the process of killing him based primarily on the fact that Bucklew’s airways are already compromised and painful. During lethal injection breathing is a primary target and in Bucklew’s case his breathing is already labored and painful. Dr. Zivot believes that Bucklew will most likely suffer hemorrhaging (profuse bleeding) and severe pain before dying due to his congenital condition inducing a cruel and unusual death.

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Cruel and unusual punishment is defined as punishment causing suffering, pain and humiliation. The question is will Bucklew suffer cruelly and unusually during his death process due to his congenital condition compared to a physically healthy inmate? According to at least one medical expert, Dr. Joel Zivot, Bucklew will suffer severe pain and hemorrhaging during his death process and as such it will be cruel and unusual.

Bucklew’s legal team wanted to video tape the process of his lethal injection as evidence if his execution goes badly similar to Clayton Lockett’s recent cruel and unusual execution in Oklahoma. Their request has since been denied. The issue is not about the pros and cons of the death penalty or the nature of Bucklew’s crime. The issue is about executing someone who will most likely and perhaps knowingly suffer more so than an otherwise healthy inmate during the death process. This process would then be called torture resulting in death.

An additional concern in cases of lethal injection is the apparent secrecy in death-penalty states about the specific drugs used to cause death. It seems that a cocktail of compounded drugs are now used in place of individual drugs used in a sequence in the past to cause death. Rachel Maddow, of the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, recently offered a comprehensive discourse about the use of lethal drugs compounded in a pharmacy in lieu of individual drugs purchased and used in a sequence during lethal injection. This untested compounding of death drugs may have contributed to Clayton Lockett’s pain and suffering for 43-minutes before succumbing to a reported heart attack. The secrecy about what drugs are used during a lethal injection certainly is not reassuring to those facing death by such means. Dying is one thing but suffering prior to death is a different matter.

It seems this is the time for a moratorium on the use of lethal injection to kill inmates. Not solely to study what drugs are used and how but the irony of selecting inmates medically suitable for such a death. Perhaps we as a so-called civilized and industrial society should be questioning the value and sense of the death penalty itself.

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