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  #1  
Old 03-22-2010, 02:34 PM
Shot From Guns Shot From Guns is offline
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Execution by Morphine Overdose?

Among the objections to capital punishment in the U.S. is the contention that current and past methods (e.g., electrocution, hanging, gas chamber, lethal injection) are not humane methods of execution. In fiction, a morphine overdose is sometimes presented as a relatively painless way to ease the death of someone who is fatally wounded. Is this accurate, and if so, why isn't morphine overdose considered as an option for the death penalty?

Note: This is not a discussion of the merits of the death penalty itself; simply a request for information on a particular means.
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  #2  
Old 03-22-2010, 03:00 PM
jasg jasg is offline
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It may not be accurate. Google found this post that explained the issue a bit more than I understood.
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  #3  
Old 03-22-2010, 03:02 PM
Tapioca Dextrin Tapioca Dextrin is offline
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Morphine is a prescription medication that needs a doctor to administer. Doctors don't really go in for the whole killing people thing.
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  #4  
Old 03-22-2010, 03:25 PM
Whack-a-Mole Whack-a-Mole is offline
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What do they use to put animals down?

I have seen it in action (sadly) and sure seems the animals go peacefully. I assume it would work similarly for humans.
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  #5  
Old 03-22-2010, 03:26 PM
EmAnJ EmAnJ is offline
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Well, what is a lethal injection? Is it not similar in concept to how you put an animal down?
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Old 03-22-2010, 03:30 PM
Shot From Guns Shot From Guns is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jasg View Post
It may not be accurate. Google found this post that explained the issue a bit more than I understood.
So it looks like this may be another case of something presented in fiction that doesn't necessarily hold true. Shocking.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tapioca Dextrin View Post
Morphine is a prescription medication that needs a doctor to administer. Doctors don't really go in for the whole killing people thing.
Don't you need some kind of license to administer the drugs currently used for lethal injections? Flipping through some Wikipedia articles, it looks like Kevorkian used to use the same chemicals, albeit in a different order, and then switched to carbon monoxide when his license was revoked and he could no longer legally obtain them.
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  #7  
Old 03-22-2010, 03:40 PM
horsetech horsetech is offline
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One main issue with the lethal injection is that they currently use a barbiturate anesthetic plus a paralytic plus potassium, which stops the heart, so there is the potential for the prisoner to not be completely anesthetized before receiving a paralytic or the lethal dose of potassium. When they euthanize animals (the proper way, anyway, I'm sure there are still poor, rural shelters out there using outdated techniques), they do not use a paralytic or an overdose of potassium. It is just a significant overdose of a barbiturate anesthetic, sometimes with an anticonvulsant drug added (I'm not sure why, but my WAG would be to reduce the incidence of unsightly reactions like involuntary movement as the animal is going under). The animal is rapidly rendered unconscious and stops breathing, and the heart follows shortly thereafter. Additional doses are sometimes needed to completely kill the animal, but they are already heavily anesthetized.

I apologize if this stumbles into GD territory, but I do not understand why they feel the need to even introduce this potential stumbling block in human executions when the above technique of euthanasia has been used so widely and humanely (and relatively cheaply -- an $80 bottle of Beuthanasia will kill a good-sized adult horse). Morphine overdose would follow the same idea of shutting down the brain until it stops telling the body to breathe.
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Old 03-22-2010, 03:44 PM
Shot From Guns Shot From Guns is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Whack-a-Mole View Post
What do they use to put animals down?

I have seen it in action (sadly) and sure seems the animals go peacefully. I assume it would work similarly for humans.
Per Wikipedia, animal euthanasia usually uses a high dose of a barbituate, which is what is usually used for humans, in combination with other drugs. Current objections against the specific process of lethal injection in the U.S. hinge around the idea that the person is paralyzed but aware of their own suffocation, as well as in pain from the potassium chloride.
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  #9  
Old 03-23-2010, 06:55 AM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tapioca Dextrin View Post
Morphine is a prescription medication that needs a doctor to administer. Doctors don't really go in for the whole killing people thing.
As others have said, the three drugs making up the current execution cocktail also require prescriptions.

Getting back to the OP, you are right - a morphine OD would do the trick. However, there are several potential problems. For one, nausea and vomiting might well result, especially from a large dose. So, too messy. Second, it may come across as being too 'pleasant' of a way to die in the minds of some.

The thing that gets me is the perceived need to use three drugs. All that does is complicate things unnecessarily (and give grounds for appeal on bases such as the burning pain of the potassium injection, or the potential for a smothering sensation from the pancuronium, as not being humane). An OD of the barbiturate, itself, is more than enough. In fact, IIRC, that is the preferred method (if you can get hold of it) recommended by groups such as the Hemlock Society. You just fall asleep.
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Old 03-23-2010, 07:05 AM
HMS Irruncible HMS Irruncible is offline
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So pass a law that says a signed death warrant is a prescription for an overwhelming dose of barbiturate for the condemned, dispensable by the execution team, redeemable only in the prison pharmacy. Are we really so hamstrung by some medical procedural rules that we have to torture people to death?
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  #11  
Old 03-23-2010, 07:21 AM
Maastricht Maastricht is offline
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Executions typically have witnesses and spectators (the victims family, government officials) Perhaps the traditional method takes just enough time in between the prisoner being shuffled in and saying his last words, and the doctor announcing the time of death?

If I were present at an execturion, I wouldn't want to sit in that box for half the night while the prisoner took his morphine, got drowsy, gently fell asleep, had to be checked up, perhaps gt another dose, and then, at some unspecified time, died. That may take hours. What should the victims family do in that time? Prod him? Go outside and smoke a cigarette? Read a magazine?
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  #12  
Old 03-23-2010, 09:33 AM
IAmNotSpartacus IAmNotSpartacus is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cosmic Relief View Post
Are we really so hamstrung by some medical procedural rules that we have to torture people to death?
Are you looking for a factual answer or did you forget this isn't GD?
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  #13  
Old 03-23-2010, 11:16 AM
Shot From Guns Shot From Guns is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Maastricht View Post
If I were present at an execturion, I wouldn't want to sit in that box for half the night while the prisoner took his morphine, got drowsy, gently fell asleep, had to be checked up, perhaps gt another dose, and then, at some unspecified time, died. That may take hours. What should the victims family do in that time? Prod him? Go outside and smoke a cigarette? Read a magazine?
IIRC, it's the current method that takes a long time to kill someone (Wiki: "Death usually occurs within seven minutes, although the whole procedure can take up to two hours, as was the case with the execution of Christopher Newton on May 24, 2007. "). A sufficiently high overdose of morphine should pretty quickly depress the respiratory system, shoudln't it?

Of course, we have the other side effects mentioned by KarlGauss. It seems like a straight-up giant dose of a barbituate would, by contrast, shut the body down quickly and (relatively?) painlessly. Hrm, although reading further, it sounds like some people can take a long time to die from just a high dose of barbituates, or may not die at all.
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  #14  
Old 03-23-2010, 11:46 AM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shot From Guns View Post
. . . although reading further, it sounds like some people can take a long time to die from just a high dose of barbituates, or may not die at all.
That is simply not true in the context of an "execution".

Sure, if you take them by mouth, it may take a while (if for no other reason that the initial effects of the barbiturates may slow down digestion and hence their further absorption from the gut). But that is a 'straw man'. No one would use oral barbiturates as the execution prescription. On the contrary, a huge dose given intravenously would lead to almost immediate "circulatory collapse" and suppression of breathing (hey, have you ever had a general anesthetic - and that's with a small dose).

I'd be surprised if, following the IV administration of a BIG dose of barbiturates, the subject wasn't dead in less than 10 minutes (and probably sooner).

As an aside, if in the 'classic' triple prescription used to execute someone (1st barbiturates, then pancuronium, and finally potassium), the dose of the barbiturate was increased, say, three-fold, no one could rationally argue that the subject would feel anything, let alone pain, afterward.

Last edited by KarlGauss; 03-23-2010 at 11:47 AM..
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  #15  
Old 03-23-2010, 12:26 PM
pravnik pravnik is offline
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I had always thought that it may have something to do with the fact that morphine is a schedule II narcotic and the current drugs used are either schedule III (sodium thiopental) or uncontrolled drugs, and thus easier for non-doctors to obtain from other non-doctors for the purposes of execution (prior thread: No prescription needed to execute?). However, I'm not sure I'm right on that. The current three drug cocktail was developed by the former ME of Oklahoma in 1977 and subsequently adopted by all other states using lethal injection after it proved effective there, so its continued use may simply be a matter of "if it ain't broke don't fix it."

Last edited by pravnik; 03-23-2010 at 12:29 PM..
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  #16  
Old 03-23-2010, 01:00 PM
Trom Trom is offline
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I have a related question...

There is a scene in Saving Private Ryan where an American field medic is shot through the stomach. He realizes that he can't be saved (or can't realistically expect the other soldiers to save him), and requests morphine. In this type of scene, is he supposedly killed by the morphine itself or is the morphine dose administered to ease the suffering of dying from the bullet wound (or perhaps hasten the process)?
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  #17  
Old 03-23-2010, 01:00 PM
Chief Pedant Chief Pedant is offline
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A small caliber bullet to the base of the brain is difficult to improve upon for humane-ness and effectiveness. I don't think those two things are necessarily the prime considerations.

I don't piddle around much in the specifcs of execution, but in general, assuming Intravenous access with a large-bore needle in a good vein, it's easy as pie to come up with drugs and cocktails of drugs that are lethal, effective and painless.

I have the sense that establishing that IV access in the first place is often one of the sticking points, and of course there is usually a collection of individuals who have an anti-death penalty agenda hanging around to interpret any and all responses as hideous, cruel and painful.

Pure morphine is only OK. The LD50 is variable, as is the response to it, and because the mechanism of death is respiratory depression, it's not a nice primary way to make sure an individual is dead and stays good and dead. There's this long drawn-out period of the heart kind of sorta slowly staggering to death and staying down. Plus, without paralytics, lots of opportunity for gasping, moaning, convulsing, etc

A cocktail covering sensorium, paralysis and shutting down the heart rapidly is defintely the best choice in my non-expert opinion.

Last edited by Chief Pedant; 03-23-2010 at 01:01 PM..
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Old 03-23-2010, 01:03 PM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant View Post
. . . establishing that IV access in the first place is often one of the sticking points
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  #19  
Old 03-23-2010, 01:10 PM
Ranchoth Ranchoth is offline
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Nitrogen asphyxiation is the other old standby in discussions like this. Fast, painless, and environmentally friendly.
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  #20  
Old 03-23-2010, 02:13 PM
picunurse picunurse is offline
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Morphine has two side effects that can cause death; respiratory depression and hypotension.


The dose needed to cause these side effects can be different in different individuals, depending on many factors.

Hypotension can be an ugly death ans seizures can occur. Respiratory depression can take a long time.

There are many other drugs that can cause death more quickly. Insulin in high doses is universally fatal, but it too causes seizures.
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  #21  
Old 03-23-2010, 02:59 PM
CookingWithGas CookingWithGas is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shot From Guns View Post
...high dose of a barbituate....giant dose of a barbituate....high dose of barbituates....
Just wanted to clarify that notwithstanding a popular pun that has helped perpetuate the mispronunciation, the word is barbiturate.
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  #22  
Old 03-23-2010, 03:37 PM
Shot From Guns Shot From Guns is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant View Post
A cocktail covering sensorium, paralysis and shutting down the heart rapidly is defintely the best choice in my non-expert opinion.
The problem with the paralytics is that they don't really make anything better for the person being killed; just easier on those watching.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ranchoth View Post
Nitrogen asphyxiation is the other old standby in discussions like this. Fast, painless, and environmentally friendly.
Yes, I came across that one, too, and I thought about bringing it up here. But this wasn't intended to be a discussion of all potential methods, just the feasibility of morphine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CookingWithGas View Post
Just wanted to clarify that notwithstanding a popular pun that has helped perpetuate the mispronunciation, the word is barbiturate.
:cues "The More You Know" rainbow and jingle:
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  #23  
Old 03-23-2010, 03:55 PM
Superfluous Parentheses Superfluous Parentheses is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ranchoth View Post
Nitrogen asphyxiation is the other old standby in discussions like this. Fast, painless, and environmentally friendly.
And doesn't need a doctor, since you can easily do it with a standard gas chamber like contraption. Also: I can't speak for fatal doses obviously, but Nitrogen is really a fairly pleasant - if slightly disorienting - experience.

As an aside, who does the injections (in states that do injections) right now then?

Last edited by Superfluous Parentheses; 03-23-2010 at 03:56 PM..
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  #24  
Old 03-23-2010, 04:24 PM
Shot From Guns Shot From Guns is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Superfluous Parentheses View Post
As an aside, who does the injections (in states that do injections) right now then?
There doesn't appear to be any set standard for the teams that perform the executions.

"As [Jay] Chapman, its [lethal injection's] progenitor, told me: 'It never occurred to me when we set this up that we’d have complete idiots administering the drugs.'"

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/11/ma...on.t.html?_r=1
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  #25  
Old 03-23-2010, 05:05 PM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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Sounds like an easy way to go..I was given morphine once (for kidney stone pains). It was like being very drowsy, and wanting to sleep..pleasant, actually.
Of course, this reminded me of an old Three Stooges line:
"Gentlemen-how would you like to die?- "burned at the stake or head chopped off?"
Curley: "I'll take burned at the stake"
Moe: "why?"
Curley :"a hot stake is better than a cold chop"
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  #26  
Old 03-23-2010, 10:58 PM
pravnik pravnik is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Superfluous Parentheses View Post
And doesn't need a doctor, since you can easily do it with a standard gas chamber like contraption. Also: I can't speak for fatal doses obviously, but Nitrogen is really a fairly pleasant - if slightly disorienting - experience.

As an aside, who does the injections (in states that do injections) right now then?
Typically EMT's or phlebotomists.

Last edited by pravnik; 03-23-2010 at 10:58 PM..
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  #27  
Old 03-24-2010, 09:12 AM
Shot From Guns Shot From Guns is offline
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Originally Posted by ralph124c View Post
Sounds like an easy way to go..I was given morphine once (for kidney stone pains). It was like being very drowsy, and wanting to sleep..pleasant, actually.
I'd assume that the reaction with a lethal dose might be quite different.
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  #28  
Old 03-24-2010, 09:28 AM
Ranchoth Ranchoth is offline
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Are the lethal dose reactions for other drugs related to morphine—such as heroin, or straight opium—any "prettier" than morphine itself?

Again, of course, legal obstacles would probably get in the way; to the point where dropping a 16-ton anvil on the condemned's head would be easier to push through the legislature. Also faster and more humane, though that's a different story.
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  #29  
Old 03-24-2010, 09:30 AM
Morgenstern Morgenstern is offline
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Originally Posted by Tapioca Dextrin View Post
Morphine is a prescription medication that needs a doctor to administer. Doctors don't really go in for the whole killing people thing.
The drugs they use now are also controlled aren't they?
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  #30  
Old 03-24-2010, 09:44 AM
pravnik pravnik is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Morgenstern View Post
The drugs they use now are also controlled aren't they?
Sodium thiopental is, but it's a schedule III drug rather than a schedule II drug like morphine and not regulated as strictly. Pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride are uncontrolled drugs.
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