The Pharmacology of Lethal Injection

‘…The purpose of these drugs is two-fold. First, they are used to induce death in a manner as painless as possible for the condemned. Second, the drug combination is also intended for the audience to view the process as peaceful and medical, without any twitching of the body, vocalizations, or any reflex actions that can still occur while one is unconscious.

The three types of drugs and their purposes, as originally proposed and used in order, are as follows:

  1. a sedating drug to render the condemned unconscious (barbiturates such as sodium thiopental or pentobarbital)
  2. a neuromuscular blocking drug to cause paralysis of all muscles except the heart (such as pancuronium or vercuronium bromide)
  3. a lethal dose of potassium chloride to arrest the heart

I want to address these drugs in reverse order to illustrate why their successive administration is so important.’ — David Kroll (Forbes).