Over the centuries, societies have found many ways to put their prisoners to death—from the medieval, like the guillotine, to the more contemporary but still gruesome, like the electric chair. On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver examined the official method most used in the U.S. today: lethal injection , which despite its more benign façade can be just as horrible, and actually less dependable, than its crude predecessors.
In most lethal injection procedures, prisoners are administered a series of three injections: an anesthetic, a paralytic, and a drug to induce cardiac arrest. The paralytic, which prevents prisoners from convulsing or crying out, is not necessary to carry out the execution, but is included to make the event look less repulsive to spectators. And because lethal injections are normally administered by non-medical personnel—since most doctors, bound by the Hippocratic Oath, refuse to take part—they have a high botch rate, prompting some inmates on death row to request the use of an electric chair instead.
If the thought of botched lethal injections turns stomachs, Oliver said, that’s the right reaction. The death penalty is a grisly practice no matter the mechanism, and even lethal injections—which have been designed to comfort capital punishment supporters—aren’t any more humane than shrieking, “Off with her head!”