Lawyers for California death row inmate Michael Morales argue that California's three-drug cocktail it uses for executions is "cruel and unusual" — and thus unconstitutional — so a federal judge gave the state three options, including having an anesthesiologist on hand to ensure Morales was unconscious when the drugs were injected.
However, two anesthesiologist objected on ethical grounds, so the scheduled execution this morning was postponed.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
The doctors' withdrawal came at the end of hasty legal maneuvering in U.S. District Court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. But it was the language in an opinion rendered Monday by the appellate court that had the court-ordered anesthesiologists in mutiny.
The doctors' concerns hinged on the ethics of returning an inmate to consciousness in the event of a botched lethal injection.
Doctors said the ruling raised serious questions about the possibility of having to intervene in the execution "if any evidence of either pain or a return to consciousness arose."
In a statement to the warden, the doctors said, "Any such intervention would be medically unethical. As a result, we have withdrawn from participation in this current process. ... What is being asked of us is ethically unacceptable."
The death warrant for Morales expires at 12:01 a.m PST Wednesday so to avoid having to return to the trial judge to set a new execution date, prison officials tonight will follow a second option proposed by a federal judge: They will kill Morales with an overdose of barbituates.
The legal maneuverings do not address the constitutionality of the death penalty, just how it is administered. But this episode is illustrative of the cruelty and the moral insanity of the death penalty, that it is somehow justified if officials can just find a "humane" way to take a life.
UPDATED, 12:55 p.m. EST
Coincidentally,Death Penalty Information Center reports that "the number of people sentenced to death each year in California has declined by nearly 40 percent since the 1990s."