Dec 9 A man executed by Alabama on Thursday
night heaved and coughed for 13 minutes before dying, and
critics of capital punishment said his reaction was caused by a
drug that should be banned because it does not render a prisoner
Alabama used sedative midazolam in its lethal injection mix
to execute 45-year-old Ronald Smith. Midazolam, a valium-like
drug, has been used in executions in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona
that took longer than usual or were botched. In some instances,
witnesses said convicted murderers twisted on gurneys before
The drug has also been used in executions in Florida.
Thirty-one U.S. states allow the death penalty.
"It shows there is a clear and ongoing risk that prisoners
who are executed in a multi-drug protocol using midazolam are
going to be exposed to searing pain during the course of the
execution," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the
non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, which examines
issues regarding U.S. capital punishment.
Smith, convicted of murdering a convenience store clerk in
1994, underwent two consciousness tests to make sure he could
not feel pain, media witness Kent Faulk wrote for the news
Smith was also seen moving his lips after the drugs were
administered in the execution, which took 34 minutes, Faulk
Critics have contended that the drug does not achieve the
level of unconsciousness required for surgery and is therefore
unsuitable for executions. Supporters have said it is an
effective chemical, the use of which has been authorized by the
U.S. Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 ruling in June 2015 in support of midazolam,
Justice Samuel Alito wrote that death row inmates in Oklahoma
challenging its use had, among other things, failed to show
there was an alternative method of execution available that
would be less painful.
The inmates failed to demonstrate that "any risk of harm was
substantial when compared to a known and available alternative
method of execution," Alito said.
In Alabama and other states, midazolam is typically used in
combination with a drug that halts breathing and another that
stops the heart.
States have been looking for drugs for lethal injections
after a number of drugmakers, mostly European, began banning
sales of their products for use in executions over ethical
This year, U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.
halted sales of its products for use in executions over similar
concerns. This includes midazolam, pancuronium bromide, which
can be used as a paralytic agent that halts breathing, and
potassium chloride, which can cause cardiac arrest.
(Writing and additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz)