viernes, 20 de noviembre de 2015

More lethal than fear

You are in a small windowless room, lying on a pale turquoise gurney. On each side of the gurney there is a metal table against the wall, and in one of them there are scissors, a small red beaker and a gauze strip. Neatness of the room is strangely disturbing and doesn’t release comfort. There is also a clock just above the gurney ticking to announce something terrible.

You can see everything because in front of you there is a mirror. And you can imagine that behind must be your execution witnesses, some of your family and possibly several families of your victims.

Prison officials tie you to the gurney straps and clean your arms with alcohol before insert an intravenous cannula in each (the one main and the other for security, if the first fails). You can see yourself helpless in the mirror. You're a murderer but you are also afraid, something that is part of our deepest and most primitive animal nature, probably the same that led you to do what you did.

Execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison in California.

There are many definitions that have been given about fear and all of them could be valid for what concerns us here. But as it is necessary to choose one, we have decided this: "Fear is a disturbance of mood due to a risk or harm, real or imagined that threatens our physical or moral integrity." What is certain is that it is one of the fundamental reactions of living organisms and therefore is a mainstay in the social organization of individual. Probably the history of civilization and progress could be written in terms of domain of fear.

The difference is that, in this case, you cannot get away, you cannot fight, you cannot fend. Your digestion, if you afforded a great dinner last night, stops or delays. Your energy reserves go into the bloodstream, increasing levels of adrenaline, glucose from your liver and red blood cells that come from your spleen. Your blood flows from the viscera to the muscles, which tighten. Your blood pressure raises, your heartbeat increases, your breathing increases. At the same time, your blood coagulates faster, your colon and your bladder relax and your pupils dilate.

"Luckily" you're about to be calm. To avoid blood flow is blocked a saline solution of sodium chloride (NaCl) start dropping. Lethal injection involves a sequence of three different substances:

Anesthesia. First, some type of anesthetic starts to pump, usually sodium pentothal or pentobarbital. The intention is to leave you unconscious in order to reduce your pain. Your breathing also decreases significantly. Within seconds, you start to feel tired and heavy and start to doze.

Sodium pentothal.

Paralysis. Once you're unconscious, pancuronium bromide starts to enter into your bloodstream. As it is a neuromuscular blocker, it prevents the nerve messenger, acetylcholine, reaches the muscles, paralyzing them. It may cause respiratory failure, which could lead to death by asphyxia if the third compound is not administered.

Pancuronium bromide.

Heart attack. And then, potassium chloride (KCl), another saline solution, affects electrical signal of your heart, gradually causing it to stop. At all times you are connected to a heart monitor whereby officials will know when you ..............


This post is part of Radical Barbatilo special "The Dark Side of Chemistry" and participates in the LII Spanish Carnival of Chemistry hosted in the blog El Celuloide de Avogadro.

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