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It seems that that the controversy regarding how much suffering an execution causes could be ended by just using general anesthesia ahead of the execution. Is it legal for a US state to use general anesthesia before executing a prisoner? If the answer depends on state, use Alabama and suffocation by nitrogen gas as execution method.

To clarify, I am not asking if it is currently legal by the state law, but if something is preventing that state to make anesthesia a legal part of an execution.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – feetwet
    Jan 26 at 15:03
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    I seem to remember the Herriot books mentioning that animals are euthinised by an overdose of aneastetics. Are we sure the lethal injection is not just that. Death by an overdose of aneastetics.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 26 at 17:28
  • @NeilMeyer: They're not, for political reasons.
    – Joshua
    Jan 27 at 3:06
  • It seems to me that the lethal injection executions started by general anesthesia (or an equivalent) precisely because injecting poison is particularly painful. In fact, I seem to remember that a death row inmate challenged the legality of the process because the anesthesia, if any, didn't actually prevent the pain and was a cruel punishment ; and that the answer from the supreme court was basically "if you find a painless way, provide it to the state, otherwise the state is allowed to kill you that way even if it hurts". Jan 27 at 19:02

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There is nothing in state law against it. The issue is what the courts would allow.

One of the major practical issues with the death penalty is that medical professionals are prevented by their ethics rules from participating. So the question would be whether it would be cruel to have someone that was not a doctor or a nurse administer general anesthesia. The courts would hear plenty of expert testimony on that subject but my wager would be that general anesthesia is sufficiently complicated (it is an entire medical specialty) that there would be hundreds of ways that an untrained person could screw it up and cause the patient to suffer either in the process of anesthetizing the patient or by causing the patient to be paralyzed but still able to feel.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Jan 27 at 0:22
  • Could this "medical professionals are prevented by their ethic rules from participating" change if the executee has the choice to be anesthesized or not? Jan 27 at 17:29
  • @PaŭloEbermann No, the ethic rules referred to here is the hippocratic oath which basically says that the doctor may not do deliberate harm. The patients will is totally irrelevant for this restriction.
    – quarague
    Jan 27 at 19:37
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    Perhaps I have a poor understanding of the Hippocratic oath, but if someone is being executed either way, being involved in providing pain relief doesn't feel like a violation of that oath to me (assuming the anaesthesia itself isn't the cause of death, and is just preparation for the execution)
    – DBS
    Jan 27 at 21:44

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