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Walter P. LoughlinWalter P. Loughlin (Handout)

In a 1995 opinion denying Supreme Court review to a death row prisoner about to be executed, Justice Antonin Scalia remarked, in comparing the brutal murder of a young girl to the prisoner’s scheduled execution: “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection.”1 No such serene passage to the hereafter occurred in the two-hour-long execution that took place on July 23 in Arizona, which Senator John McCain, well-qualified by experience as an abused prisoner of war, has characterized as torture.2

The spectacle in Arizona was at least the fourth botched execution this year. In January, an Oklahoma prisoner was heard to scream that he felt his body was burning as the lethal drugs were administered.3 One week later, an Ohio prisoner was seen to gasp for air for 25 minutes before being pronounced dead.4 Last April, again in Oklahoma, a prisoner writhed in pain as the drugs were pumped into his body tissue instead of his bloodstream. Prison officials halted the execution. The prisoner died of a heart attack.5 These are not isolated instances. It has been estimated that up to 7 per cent of lethal injection executions have historically gone awry for one reason or another.6

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