Supreme Court upholds Kentucky's use of lethal injections - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's use of lethal injection executions Wednesday. The justices, by a 7-2 vote, turned back a constitutional challenge to the procedures in place in Kentucky, which uses three drugs to sedate, paralyze and kill inmates. 'We ... agree that petitioners have not carried their burden of showing that the risk of pain from maladministration of a concededly humane lethal injection protocol, and the failure to adopt untried and untested alternatives, constitute cruel and unusual punishment,' Chief Justice John Roberts said in an opinion that garnered only three votes. Four other justices, however, agreed with the outcome. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented."
This three-drug protocol starts with a huge dose of an anesthetic (Pentothal) that is supposed to prevent the inmate from feeling any pain. The second drug, also given in a huge dose, is a powerful muscle relaxant that paralyzes all muscles, including the diaphragm so breathing stops, and so that the inmate can't move. The final drug is potassium chloride, which is a powerful poison that stops the heart. The basis of the challenge as I understand it is that if the first drug doesn't fully anesthetize the inmate, he will then be paralyzed by the second drug and unable to give any evidence that he is in agony from having his breathing stopped and then hit with terrible pain when the potassium chloride is injected and his heart stops. This would go on for quite a while, because there is a period of minutes between drugs. They even take time to flush out the lines with saline solution. The whole process takes 10 or 15 minutes. The claim is that this could produce a slow, agonizing, nightmarish death that would look from the outside like a painless execution.
Of course, the states that use this method claim that this is all a big fantasy cooked up by death penalty opponents.