How lethal injection reform constitutes impermissible research on prisoners

Seema Shah*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This Article exposes how recent attempts at lethal injection reform have involved unethical and illegal research on prisoners. States are varying the doses and types of drugs used, developing methods designed for non-medical professionals to administer medical procedures, and gathering data or making provisions for the gathering of data to learn from executions gone wrong. When individual prisoners are executed under these conditions, states are conducting research on them. Conducting research or experimentation on prisoners in the process of reform is problematic because it violates state laws and ethical principles. The Supreme Court has recently taken up the challenge of elucidating the standard for determining the constitutionality of lethal injection. The Court's fractured decision suggests that states may need to conduct lethal injection reform to develop procedures substantially similar to those used in Kentucky. It follows that the Court's decision may lead states to contravene state laws or ethical precepts regarding research with prisoners. Thus, this Article provides important limitations on the kinds of reform that may be permissible and outlines the open questions that must be addressed before it can be determined whether the risks and uncertainties involved in lethal injection can be remedied.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1101-1147
Number of pages47
JournalAmerican Criminal Law Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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