Death Row Inmates Ask For Execution To Be Delayed Due To Covid-19 Diagnoses
Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs - both convicted of murder - are on federal death row and awaiting the passing of their sentences in the coming weeks.
However, both say that the punishment would be cruel and unusual because of the nature of the drug used to administer the lethal injection.
The drug in question is pentobarbital, and autopsy results have shown that people who have been executed with it often suffer from pulmonary oedema, which is when fluid enters the lungs while the person is still conscious.
The sensation has been described as being similar to drowning or suffocation. Some experts have warned that this could be worse for people who have been suffering with Covid-19, much like the two inmates.
The prisoners' lawyers have now petitioned District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington DC to allow them a stay of execution in order to allow them to recover.
Alternatively, the men's representatives asked for a prior dose of an opioid or analgesic to block the pain or - shockingly - to be killed via firing squad.
The pair tested positive in December, and their lawyers have also argued that they both have coronavirus-related lung damage, making pulmonary oedema a distinct possibility.
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Shawn Nolan, an attorney for Higgs, said: "Basically, he will be waterboarded to death, he will be drowned.
"That's what the pentobarbital will do to him. It is our position that it violates the Eighth Amendment."
That amendment refers to the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
However, the government has called the claim 'speculative' and questioned whether there is evidence that Higgs and Johnson will experience oedema more severely or quickly than others.
In an evidentiary hearing on Tuesday, the plaintiff's medical expert Gail A. Van Norman said: "I admit that nobody that I know of in the world has administered massive overdoses of intravenous pentobarbital to Covid-19 patients because it would be unethical to do so.
"And so asking for a specific scientific study of what would happen with pentobarbital in Covid-19 patients is obviously an oxymoron."
In her expert declaration, Van Norman also wrote: "For prisoners experiencing Covid-19 lung damage at the time of their execution, flash pulmonary [oedema] will occur even earlier in the execution process, and before brain levels of pentobarbital have peaked.
"To a reasonable degree of medical certainty, these prisoners will experience sensations of drowning and suffocation sooner than a person without Covid-related lung damage and, therefore, their conscious experience of the symptoms of pulmonary [oedema] will be prolonged."
Whether or not pentobarbital should be used in executions at all is the subject of a lawsuit that is ongoing, and several plaintiffs in the case have been executed last year before the suit has reached a conclusion.
Featured Image Credit: Counsel for Dustin Higgs and Corey Johnson
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