Ohio already has botched three executions in recent years. A federal judge has scolded the state for failing to follow its own protocols for capital punishment. Now the state and its conduct of the death penalty are again the center of unfortunate attention.
On Tuesday, the execution of Dennis McGuire took an unusually long time, according the Associated Press reporter on the scene. Attorneys for McGuire had warned that an untested lethal injection of drugs could cause “air hunger,” or a sense of suffocation due to an inadequate flow of air to the lungs. The Columbus Dispatch reported that McGuire “started struggling and gasping loudly for air, making snorting and choking sounds which lasted for at least 10 minutes.”
Few, if any, have sympathy for McGuire, who raped and murdered Joy Stewart, 22 years old and 30-weeks pregnant. State officials declared that he wasn’t entitled to a “pain-free” death.
Yet the death penalty isn’t merely about the killer. The way it is conducted reflects on all of us. The opposition of European drugmakers has set Ohio and other states scrambling to revamp their execution formulas. Lethal injection was designed as the more humane option. Now it increasingly has come to reflect what many see as our broken machinery of death.