Lethal Injection Déjà Vu?

Death Penalty

Death Penaltyby Ana Zamora

Last Friday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) made public proposed regulations on a new lethal injection protocol. This triggered the public comment period under California’s Administrative Procedures Act (APA), which ensures the public has a right to participate in every step of the regulatory process so that our concerns are addressed in a meaningful way.

The purpose of this process is to ensure that the CDCR engages in transparent decision-making and adequate study when it comes to such important, life and death decisions.

For many of us dedicated anti-death penalty activists, this all might feel like a bit of déjà vu…

Let’s go back in time for a moment, to the spring of 2009, when the CDCR made public proposed regulations for a three-drug protocol thus triggering the first APA process. I had just started working at the ACLU of Northern California and remember seeing thousands of people asserting their rights by expressing concerns with the CDCR’s proposed three-drug protocol and submitting comments to the agency. The comment period culminated in a public hearing in Sacramento where around 100 people showed up and testified against the troubling proposed lethal injection protocol.

ACLU supporters and thousands of allies connected to key partner organizations, like Death Penalty Focus, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Amnesty International, MoveOn.org, and Credo Action mobilized and made their voices heard in the public comment process.

But the CDCR failed to do its job and follow the APA. After years of litigation and due to the Department’s failures, we are now back to square one.

But one thing was true then and remains true today: the death penalty is broken beyond repair and tinkering with lethal injection procedures does not address the larger problems like the exorbitant cost of the death penalty, the real risk of executing an innocent person, and whether the death penalty can ever be applied fairly in California.

This sordid history of lethal injection in California along with the CDCR’s troubling track record of secrecy and failure is why public scrutiny is especially important this time around. After reviewing the proposed regulations, I already see some disturbing provisions related to the lethal injection drugs the CDCR plans on using, its assessment of the supposed economic impact of the proposed regulations, and the complete failure to includes procedures to address the all-too-likely event of a botched execution.

In an effort to facilitate the public’s participation in this important process and to hold the CDCR accountable, we have created a new webpage www.aclunc.org/lethalinjections, to provide people with information, resources to submit comments, and toolkits to expedite community engagement.

The comment period will stay open January 22, 2015 at 5:00pm PT. We will be updating you at key points during this time on social media, using the hashtag #BrokenBeyondRepair. So please stay tuned.

Once again, we are committed to meaningful and substantive engagement in this process, but we can’t do it without your help.

Ana Zamora is Criminal Justice Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. hpierce

    Putting aside the moral arguments on the death penalty for a moment…  just talking about “drug delivery”… as a State, we’ve approved a drug regimen for a dying person who can commit suicide legally… when we have to put a four-legged friend down, there is a two drug regimen.  First an anaesthetic, then a drug that stops heart and breathing… on the technical aspects, what is the fuss about?  Both appear not to be “cruel or unusual”.

    On the moral side, how can someone simultaneously believe abortion must be readily available (where the individual whose life will end is factually innocent) and fervently regale against execution of criminals, citing the fact that a small percentage of those condemned MIGHT be innocent/wrongfully convicted?

    BTW, to only a slighter lesser extent, those who fervently oppose abortion for ANY reason have an analogous problem when they fervently support the death penalty.

    1. tj

      “a small percentage ….MIGHT be innocent”  —

      Actually we know that a percentage are, or were, indeed innocent.

      Why should the idiots at CDCR be allowed to play God?

      1. WesC

        “Why should the idiots at CDCR be allowed to play god?”

        For your information CDCR is not in any way involved in the decision on whether someone gets sentenced to death or not.  It is your local DA who decides to go for the death penalty, the judge/jury who convicts, and the judge who orders the sentence.  CDCR does not have the luxury of refusing to carry out state law and/or court orders.  They can not refuse to carry out a death sentence any more than they can decide that a person sentenced to life with out parole is really not that bad and release them after serving only a few years.

  2. Tia Will


    1. On the non moral side. No medical procedure works perfectly. Part of informed consent is that while we believe that the drugs we are administering will have the desired effect and not cause harm while that effect is being achieved, it is not guaranteed. In the case of an individual who is seeking oral medications to take to end their own life, they will be counseled that they may not be able to swallow the medication, they may throw up, the drugs while normally sufficient to end the life of a person of their size, there is no guarantee that this will be the result for them. They will also be informed that while the combination of drugs is not anticipated to be associated with pain, this may not be their individual experience. They can then decide based on their own values whether or not to proceed. None of this applies to the individual who is being executed. We simply cannot tell if these individuals will or will not suffer during the process and they have no ability to decline.

    2. Having spent a large part of my career considering the issues around abortion, capital punishment, death inflicted during wars whether deliberate on a combatant, or on what we euphemistically consider “collateral damage”, namely the women and children that are killed by our actions I have a number of thoughts about your moral questions.

    The first is what we consider a person. Some consider a fertilized egg a “person”. I do not. There are several reasons that I do not. First we do not know when the conception as occurred except under the most technical of circumstances. such as in vitro fertilization.  Therefore those who believe in full personhood at the time of conception are attributing full personhood to a state of existence that cannot be determined by our current technology. Second for me is the acorn analogy. I don’t believe that any of us would assert that an acorn is a tree, and yet there are many who will assert that a blastocyst is a baby.

    I have stated many times that I personally do not approve of abortion on demand at any time during the pregnancy for just any reason. However, we have already dealt with this issue legally by putting a number of legal constraints on abortion. I do believe that there are a number of legitimate reasons for seeking or performing abortion and that my personal preferences are just that. They are based on my moral standards which I have no right to impose on someone who may not share them. I honestly believe that if I stand in opposition to a woman having an abortion, then I should be willing to raise that child myself. Not have her give it up for adoption….raise it myself. I would fully respect anyone who made that offer to a woman contemplating abortion. Unfortunately, what these women who are heckled or deceived into not aborting get is support at that moment…..and then no more from her tormentors.

    What I find very difficult to understand from those who oppose abortion here is how they can possibly defend military actions which they know will take the lives of innocents, yes, including fetuses in other countries. How does being American negate your responsibility to defend innocent life ? Do only American innocent lives count for those of you who hold this position ?


    1. hpierce

      “Do only American innocent lives count for those of you who hold this position ?”  If you mean ME, Tia, bring it on!  I am SO offended by that (truly), if it was aimed at me!  Dad was a medic in the Pacific theater in WW2.  It was known that Medics (who generally only had side arms, rarely, but sometimes rifles), couldn’t hit the ‘broad side of a barn”.  So, ‘useless’ in combat as protagonists, that Dad was put in charge a a group of Japanese prisoners.  A group of Marines came by, wanting to “have their fun” by torturing, then killing the Japanese COMBATANTS, as they had seen/heard of how American soldiers (and civilians in the Philipines) had been treated.

      Dad told me that he pointed his rifle at the Marines, and said something to the effect that the first guy to try and harm a prisoner would die.  Dad laughed as he told me the story and allowed as how that’s what led him to love poker… he told me that if someone had called his bluff, he STILL didn’t know what he would have done.  I’m cut from the same cloth.

      If you were trying to chastise me, you are WAY out of line.  And your “product of conception” view, I believe you are entitled to hold, but I personally reject.

      “A horse too high?”


  3. Tia Will


    Why in the world would you think that this was in anyway directed at you?  You had put some questions forward with regard to other people’s thoughts and I was answering. In my experience, that is how a conversation is usually conducted.

    I have not idea why you chose to take that comment personally. The words I wrote, I chose specifically so that no one to whom it did not apply would be offended, while those who do hold that opinion could clarify for me why they feel that way.

    “A horse too high?”

    From where I sit, it looks like only you have chosen to mount that steed.

    1. hpierce

      “I have not idea why you chose to take that comment personally.”  Let’s see… I was the only one to comment on the piece at that time.  Yet you wrote, ““Do only American innocent lives count for those of you who hold this position ?”  Yeah, I guess I was being one of Frankly’s “hypersensitive” folk.  Will account it to “my bad”.

  4. Tia Will


    My hope and intent was to draw more people into the conversation.

    I think that we all get emotional sometimes on this site and it is easy to be triggered. What is of more interest to me is your reaction to the actual points that I did make rather than to what I did not say and was not attempting to imply. Seriously, any thoughts on the fallibility of medical procedures and or the definition and scope of whom we deem to be human, and who we deem to be innocent?  You or anyone else. I am always fascinated by others perspectives on something that has been so central in my life.

  5. WesC

    In an effort to inject some balance in to the efforts to get govt more involved in contraceptive decisions a few legislators have introduced legislation that promotes a more gender balanced approach.

    Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner (D) isn’t happy with bills that seek to control women’s access to contraception and abortion. She has joined a trend across the nation by introducing a bill that would require men seeking a prescription for erectile dysfunction drugs to see a sex therapist, receive a cardiac stress test and “get a notarized affidavit signed by a sexual partner affirming impotency.” Sex therapists would be required to present the option of “celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.”  

    “The men in our lives, including members of the General Assembly, generously devote time to fundamental female reproductive issues—the least we can do is return the favor,” Senator Turner said. “It is crucial that we take the appropriate steps to shelter vulnerable men from the potential side effects of these drugs.”When a man makes a crucial decision about his health and his body, he should be fully aware of the alternative options and the lifetime repercussions of that decision,” Senator Turner said today. Men will be more easily guided through the process of obtaining treatment for impotence so they can better understand and more effectively address their condition.

    Sen. Turner isn’t the only legislator to introduce a “Viagra bill” or amendments in response to what mostly male legislators have been proposing around the nation.
    In Illinois, for instance, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D) introduced an amendment to a bill requiring ultrasounds before a woman can get an abortion that would require men to watch an explicit video about the side-effects of erectile dysfunction drugs. And, Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) introduced a bill that would allow a man to obtain a vasectomy only when not doing so could cause him serious injury or death.
    Missouri State Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis County) filed HB1853, which would only allow a man to have a vasectomy when doing so would protect him from serious injury or prevent his death.  
    If passed, HB1853 will insure that vasectomies will only be performed in medical facilities licensed by the Department of Health and Senior Services, such as a hospital, ambulatory surgery center or similarly designated health facility. Vasectomies will be legal and safe, and the back-alley ballsnipper that so many indigent men are forced to seek out when they want to get their junk switched off will become a thing of the past. For too long, men have butchered themselves using weed-whackers, small chainsaws and footballs to the groin so that they could no longer father children they didn’t want to be a father to. HB1853 will bring us to a more enlightened age.

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