Ethical implications of modifying lethal injection protocols

Leonidas G. Koniaris, Kenneth W. Goodman, Jeremy Sugarman, Uzoezi Ozomaro, Jonathan Sheldon, Teresa A. Zimmers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Lethal injection for execution has largely replaced other execution methods, in part due to the appearance of a peaceful death; however, available evidence indicates that some inmates actually suffer extreme pain. This has triggered legal challenges against lethal injection on the grounds that it violates the United States' constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Some jurisdictions collect comprehensive data on executions and outcomes, and some have modified their lethal injection protocols. Recently, jurists and lethal injection advisory panels have recommended specific changes to be instituted for future executions. Such use of biomedical inquiry to evaluate, modify, and "improve" protocols resembles human experimentation and should be scrutinized against accepted norms for ethical conduct of research, particularly given the vulnerable nature of the prisoner population. Although the regulations governing prisoner research vary byjurisdiction, the ethical framework for the modification of lethal injection protocols should be made clear prior to further investigation into how to "improve the process".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)845-849
Number of pages5
JournalPLoS medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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