Published: Jan 19, 2014
By Kristina Fiore, Staff Writer, MedPage Today
Ohio executed death row inmate Dennis McGuire on Thursday with an untested combination of drugs — and some clinicians, already known for their opposition to capital punishment, are pushing back on states’ actions.
Reports say McGuire’s death was slow — about 25 minutes — and that he appeared to gasp several times and made several loud snorting or snoring noises.
He was given a cocktail of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a powerful opioid, which his lawyers had argued would cause more agony and terror than standard drugs used in execution, like pentobarbital or sodium thiopental.
Those drugs are in short supply largely owing to European manufacturers blocking their exportation as a protest against capital punishment. States have been seeking out alternatives: Florida recently used midazolam in a three-drug cocktail to execute William Happ, and Missouri has been using pentobarbital made by a compounding pharmacy.
But in a video interview with MedPage Today, Joel Zivot, MD, an anesthesiologist at Emory University, said there’s no science behind using these drugs to kill inmates. Moreover, Zivot said, the state is “impersonating a physician” when it experiments with compounds that are used to treat patients.
“There is no such thing as a drug for capital punishment,” Zivot said. “There are compounds out there that I need to treat people, and that the state needs to execute people.”
“We struggle with trying to satisfy our ethical directive to not speak out about this,” he said, “and yet standing idly by feels wrong too.”