Just a week ago the news from my home state of Oklahoma was the kind that any state covets: accolades about our excellence in high quality early childhood education.
As if unable to handle the positive attention, Oklahomans now find ourselves in the much more usual position of having a hot negative spotlight shined upon us. Stories about executions always draw controversy, but when the headlines include words like “botched” or “bungled,” my inclination is to find the nearest rock to crawl under.
By now you’ve likely heard about what went on at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary on April 29th: Clayton Lockett, a man sentenced to death for first degree murder, was executed. It was supposed to be by lethal injection, but about the only thing clear at this point is that his vein blew and the cocktail of drugs he received went into his skin and subcutaneous tissue, not into his bloodstream. As a result, he writhed in pain, and the execution was actually ordered stopped by the physician attending it.
Forty-three minutes after it began, then went awry and was ordered stopped, Lockett was declared dead. What happened? The doctor pronounced Lockett dead of a heart attack. How that could be known without an autopsy is a mystery to me.
Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma has ordered an investigation into what went wrong. For now, Charles Warner, also convicted and sentenced to die the same day as Lockett, is under the reprieve of a stay. President Obama also weighed in, calling for a policy review on capital punishment by the Justice Department.
I wrote a reflection about doctors’ involvement in executions (and prohibitions thereof) for NPR–just click on the box below:
I hope this unfortunate Oklahoma story can lead us all to pause in search of a more enlightened path.