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The International Herald Tribune - January 8, 2008 The Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday in a case about whether Kentucky's use of a "cocktail" of injected poisons to carry out the death penalty is unconstitutional. We believe that the death penalty, no matter how it is administered, is unconstitutional and wrong. If a state does execute anyone, it must do so in a way that is humane and does not impose needless suffering. Kentucky's method does not meet that standard. Popular support for capital punishment is, thankfully, declining in the United States. The growing number of exonerations of innocent people on death row has shown that the system cannot be trusted to make such an irrevocable decision. There is considerable evidence of racial discrimination in the application of the death penalty. After years of botched electrocutions and other horrors, it is clear that the methods of taking life are barbaric. In Kentucky, and nearly all of the states that have capital punishment, executions are carried out by injection of a three-drug "cocktail." This is supposedly more humane than the electric chair. The more one learns about lethal injection, the less humane it appears. There is considerable evidence that inmates do not go peacefully or easily. Instead they are reported to feel suffocation, paralysis and excruciating pain. This is particularly true when poorly trained, unskilled workers are administering the drugs, which is all too often the case. The Supreme Court could decide to focus on the narrow question about what legal standard to apply in lethal injection cases. The two sides disagree on just how substantial a risk there must be of the inmate's feeling severe pain for the procedure to be unconstitutional. It is, of course, important to get the standard right. But the court needs to look beyond that and rule that Kentucky's method of lethal injection violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The record in the case shows that Kentucky does not have sufficient safeguards in place - both for procedures and personnel - to ensure that inmates do not suffer needlessly. Execution team members are not sufficiently trained in performing executions, and they do not adequately monitor inmates during executions to make sure that they are not feeling pain. The lawyers for the inmates in the case have shown that Kentucky could revise its procedures in ways that substantially reduce the danger of causing pain and suffering. There is a one-drug alternative that would make it easier to detect when an inmate is in pain. There is no excuse for the state's employing anything but the most humane form of lethal injection. In 2007, executions in the United States dropped to a 13-year low, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. We believe that use of the death penalty will continue to decline, and we hope that it will eventually be banned completely. Until that time, however, the Supreme Court has a duty to ensure that it is not administered in a cruel way. Kentucky's ill-conceived and haphazard administration of lethal injection does not meet that constitutional requirement.

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