You have to hand it to the state of Ohio. They’ve finally come into modernity. No longer any nasty triple-injection executions for them. Ohio is now using Sodium Thiopental (otherwise known as Sodium Pentobarbitone, trade names – Nembutal, Euthatal) to see off their unwanted criminals.
I used Euthatal for years. Not personally, on myself, you’ll understand. Part of the more unpleasant side of working with animals was the occasional need for euthanasia. Euthatal provides a painless descent into death through anesthesia. Administered correctly, into a vein, it only takes two or three seconds to do its work. I’ve known owners regard me in amazement as their beloved old dog or cat stared lifelessly back at them, and ask incredulously, “Has he gone?”
When an animal dies so peacefully that its owner doesn’t even notice it passing, that’s humane enough for me.
I don’t care to dwell on the large number of creatures British society caused me to execute. The aged, terminally ill, or severely injured, never caused any qualms. The abandoned, unwanted, otherwise fit and healthy, always left a nasty taste in the mouth. Far more than if I’d euthanized their owners.
Intravenous injection is not for the inexperienced. If you’ve ever been to the lab of your local hospital when the technician who takes your blood sample is suffering an off-day, you’ll know what I mean. And compared to a dog, or cat, human beings have big veins.
While in my late teens, I joined the staff of Liverpool University’s Veterinary Anatomy department as an animal technician. My job was to care for the laboratory animals used in what is frequently referred to today as ‘vivisection’. Then, it was veterinary research.
Government policy demanded all animals used for research be euthanized once the experiment was concluded. Part of my job was to end their lives with the least suffering possible.
Rabbits were often used for research, and the most convenient area for injection was in the ear. As there’s little fur on the underside of a rabbit’s ear, it was easy to see the vein even though it’s not much thicker than a human hair. We used ultra-fine needles, and I soon became adept at this delicate task, rarely missing or blowing a vein.
Euthatal is used by veterinarians regularly for every creature from a mouse to a horse. Each will respond quickly to the drug, though the amounts required to be administered vary, of course. A mouse requires less than one milliliter, a horse anything up to one hundred milliliters. Frankly, I’m wary of using it on a horse that’s still standing. The carotid vein in the neck is standard for injection, and a horse will invariably fall forwards as it loses consciousness, likely taking you with it. Most veterinarians opt for shooting.
It was with some concern, then, that I read of the recent Ohio execution of 51 year old Kenneth Biros.
According to the BBC website:
The total process of Biros’ execution lasted for about 43 minutes, AP said, adding that the execution team took about 30 minutes to find a suitable vein for the insertion of the needle.”
Caring, is perhaps the most important quality needed by anyone handling a syringe. That, and lots of practice. It’s not difficult to become skilled with a hypodermic, ask any heroin addict, but aptitude rapidly fades when caring for the patient diminishes.
Did anyone care about Kenneth Biros? No-one seems to question why it took so long for him to die:
Biros was pronounced dead about 10 minutes after the injection was administered, the Associated Press news agency reports.” [my italics]
Why does it take a man ten minutes to die, when a horse can be euthanized in under one minute?
Could the fact that doctors are not allowed to perform the procedure on death-row prisoners have something to do with it?
Some years ago, a colleague and dear friend ‘borrowed’ a drip stand and bag, and one hundred milliliters of Euthatal, from the animal hospital where he worked. That night he settled himself in his armchair, wrote a short poem detailing why he was leaving this earth, and inserted the drip needle into a vein in his wrist. He was dead when found the next morning.
Back in July 2008, ABC News ran an article entitled, “Tourists Trek to Mexico for ‘Death in a Bottle'”. The journalists accompanied an Australian man, Don Flounders, as he and his wife traveled to Mexico. Flounders had advanced mesothelioma, and no wish to die a miserable, lingering, death. He went to Mexico to buy Euthatal on the black market, illegal without veterinarian prescription in both America and Australia .
Given the facts, perhaps its time America curtailed its bloodlust for criminal executions. It’s proved time and time again how inept it is at carrying them out in any but a grossly inhumane fashion.
Given the facts, perhaps its time America made it easier, for those who need the means to end their own lives should terminal illness make it unbearable, to obtain that means without recourse to a black market in Mexican drugs the U.S. federal government arrogantly condemns.
Meanwhile, Ohio continues with the struggle to justify its wrongs, by trying to make them appear right.
 “Ohio carries out first US execution by single injection” BBC, December 8th 2009
 “Tourists Trek to Mexico for ‘Death in a Bottle'” ABC News, July 31st 2008
Filed under: Inhumane euthanasia