It is often claimed that lethal injections are a painless and humane method of applying the death penalty. Do lethal injections result in either no, or minimal, pain?

  • What kind of lethal injection? Presumably you mean state-governed punitive lethal injection on humans, in some region?
    – belacqua
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 17:22
  • @Jgbelacqua: Yes, I mean state-governed punitive lethal injections
    – Casebash
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 23:55
  • 2
    hard to interview the subjects afterwards :-P
    – vartec
    Commented Nov 26, 2011 at 13:25

1 Answer 1


The killing is done in several steps.

First, the convicted are given a high dose of barbiturates (about 10-15 times the normal dose), which causes them to fall unconscious within a few seconds.

Then pancuronium, and finally a massive overdose of potassium chloride are injected. The former is similar to curare (indio arrow poison) in that it paralyzes muscles (thus causing apnea). If the person was not already unconscious at that time, this would be very inconvenient (not strictly painful, but nevertheless really really uncomfortable).

The latter (potassium chloride) is actually harmless, but in this massive overdose causes a cardiac arrest and convulsions. Which, again, would be very painful, if the person was not already unconscious, and under pancuronium.

So, in short, yes. Painless.

  • I think it is inappropriate to assume that a label of 'delinquents' is appropriate to describe persons for whom state-sanctioned execution has been ordered. Anyway, this is broadly misleading. At least see the wikipedia article and check the references there. One source : Liptak, Adam (October 7, 2003). "Critics Say Execution Drug May Hide Suffering". New York Times.
    – belacqua
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 17:27
  • If 'delinquent' is not the right word, I apologize. If you like 'convicted' or some other word better, I'll be happy to substitute it.
    – dm.skt
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 18:17
  • As for "misleading", I cannot speak for the anonymous experts at Wikipedia because I have never administered a 10-fold dose of sodium thiopental to a human, but I can assure you that a regular dose reliably causes 5-6 minutes of unconsciousness (deep enough so you can intubate a patient without provoking any reaction). Basically it's like propofol without the erotic dreams. Once you apply a significant amount of potassium chloride intravenously, cardiac arrest happens within seconds.
    – dm.skt
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 18:18
  • Loss of consciousness usually happens within 10 seconds during a cardiac arrest, rarely after as much as 20 seconds. So, there is a time window of maybe 20-40 seconds at most opposed to 5-6 minutes. While I don't agree with the idea of killing a human as such, I cannot find anything wrong with this particular method (the fact that you kill a human left aside). It is a million times better than being shot, hang, or electrocuted.
    – dm.skt
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 18:20
  • @dm.skt I'm assuming that 'convicted' is better, but the OP hasn't yet made clear whether we are talking about China, N. Korea, Pakistan, the USA. Or perhaps the OP is speaking of extra-judicial lethal injections.
    – belacqua
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 21:59

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