Nation’s Leading Lethal Injection Expert Resigns

Jennifer Deutschmann

The nation’s leading lethal injection expert has resigned his role as an authoritative consultant. Mark Dershwitz, an anesthesiologist and pharmacologist, has testified in favor of lethal injection before the federal government and 22 states. Derschwitz announced his resignation amid numerous “botched” executions, which have led to continued controversy.

On January 16, 2014, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire was executed via lethal injection. Although the two-drug cocktail was developed to be quick and painless, witnesses said “it looked and sounded as though he was suffocating.” Prison officials confirmed it took nearly 25 minutes for McGuire to die.

In April, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction determined McGuire’s execution was humane after discussing “the events and observations… with its expert witness, Dr. Mark Dershwitz.” In an official statement, the DOC also said the lethal injection expert suggested increasing the dosage in future executions.

Although Dershwitz admits discussing the case with the DOC, he denies making a dosage recommendation. He is now concerned that the “mistakes made by Ohio in the April press release” could lead to legal prosecution and sanctions by the American Board of Anesthesiology.

As reported by St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dershwitz stands behind his opinion that McGuire’s execution was humane. However, he is unwilling to risk his status and career.

Although the details of McGuite’s execution were highly publicized, and criticized, lethal injection remains the preferred method of execution in the United States.

On April 29, 2014, Oklahoma inmate Clayton D. Lockett was administered a similar two-drug cocktail. Despite the issues experienced in Ohio, the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to halt the execution.

Death Penalty Info reports that fifteen minutes after the cocktail was administered, witnesses were asked to leave the room as “Lockett began breathing heavily, writhing on the gurney, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.” Forty-five minutes after the lethal injection was administered, Lockett died of a heart attack.

On July 23, 2014, Arizona inmate Joseph R. Wood was also administered a two-drug lethal injection cocktail. According to witnesses, Wood “gasped for one hour and 40 minutes before death was pronounced.”

McGuire, Lockett, and Wood, all clearly suffered during their executions. As the three men were each convicted of heinous crimes, some believe their suffering was a form of “divine retribution.”

However, others are concerned, as the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Capital punishment and lethal injection will likely remain incredibly controversial, as there are no easy answers. The resignation of the nation’s’ leading lethal injection expert is sure to add fuel to the fire.

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