A lawyer had filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of a provision in the Criminal Procedure Code which provides that the mode of execution of death penalty would be hanging by the neck. The SC, however, said that it’s the Centre’s prerogative to decide the modes of carrying out capital punishment. “We can’t say what should be the mode of carrying out a death sentence. Tell us what is happening in other countries,” the apex court asked the Centre. In its reply, the Centre said lethal injection was “not workable” as there were several instances of it failing.
Rishi Malhotra, the petitioner, said the provision of Criminal Procedure Code stating death penalty is “violative of Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution” and being “barbaric, inhuman and cruel”. “There have been cases where the neck has been fractured, yet the man is alive,” Malhotra said.
The 187th report of the Law Commission on mode of execution of death sentence stated in length about the use of lethal injections as an alternative apart from other methods which were used earlier. The Commission received responses from high court and subordinate court judges on the report and it stated, “All of the 80% judges who are in favour of amendment of Section 354(5) have suggested that administering the lethal injection should be the other mode of execution of death sentence.”
Most of the states in the US use lethal injections as an alternative means to end lives of convicts in cases of death penalty. However, administration of a lethal injection on a convict does come with complications and USA has been facing concerns regarding the method as well. “In some cases of death penalty in USA, the death has not been instantaneous. It has been prolonged over 15-30 minutes and with suffering,” said chairman of Fortis Escorts Heart Institute Ashok Seth.
The term lethal injections has not been defined in any medical books but in cases of death penalty awarded to a convict, the drugs are administered in toxic doses which, are 10-100 times their recommended doses, said Seth.
Although the law commission report discussed whether the discretion of mode of execution should lie with the judge or the convict, the question of who would provide the injections to convicts remains unanswered.
“As the mission, purpose, training and oath of the medical profession is to save lives, many doctors and medical societies are not in favour of this… in all other methods of death sentence the doctor just has to examine and certify death,” said Seth.
Raising an ethical issue, former president of the Indian Medical Association, KK Aggarwal, said a judge cannot force a doctor to give an injection. “We are ethically bound by our oath to refuse. We cannot prepone anyone’s suffering,” he said.
Similar to the oath taken by a medical practitioner, procuring the drugs from companies or pharmacies also invites a moral and legal issue. “As many of these drugs are controlled drugs, proper documentation is required for the purpose for which the drugs are procured. Storage and administration have to be done accordance to existing law of land, hence changes in laws may be required,” said Seth.
Apart from the medical reasons, there is always a possibility of misuse of these drugs. “Misuse could kill a person. Like in case of date rape drug, the formulas are now available on the internet and its misuse has been rampant. Therefore we have a policy in IMA to not name the drugs or state their dosage in public which could be misused,” stated Aggarwal.