How best to kill someone is not something that most civilised people ever have to contemplate.
Yet it is the hugely controversial consideration that has been before the US Supreme Court in recent weeks.
In a ruling this week the Court found against three death row inmates who had sought to bar the use of an execution drug, Midazolam, which they said risked causing excruciating pain.
It was a predictably tense case. As the New York Times reports, in the process of reaching a ruling “two dissenting members of the court — Justices Stephen G Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — came very close to announcing that they were ready to rule the death penalty unconstitutional”.
Doctor David Lubarsky is an anesthesiologist whose expert testimony was a critical part of the Supreme Court’s deliberations. He spoke to Jonathan McCrea on Futureproof about the case and the science behind a very controversial subject:
“A lethal injection is basically unwanted euthanasia,” Dr Lubarsky explained. “A convicted inmate is sentenced to death, and a variety of different drugs - usually used in a setting to produce anesthesia - are delivered in high doses with the thought that you are going to put a convicted inmate to sleep, paralyse them, and then often give them a third drug to stop the heart. That’s usually the sequence, and the one we were debating in the Supreme Court.
He told Jonathan that a lot of the controversy surrounds cases where the usual sequence has failed: "what we have seen in a number of botched executions where the paralytic didn’t fully get into the bloodstream, and the discomfort and agony was clearly communicated."
Dr Lubarsky discussed in-depth the moral and professional dilemmas faced by doctors who have taken a Hippocratic Oath - while many are not willing to help develop systems to kill people, he says it can be incredibly difficult watching people experience pain.
Listen back to the podcast above to hear the full Futureproof conversation with Dr David Lubarsky.