The History of Lethal Injection

Posted on November 4, 2019

Lethal injection is a method of execution. It is seen as the most humane form of capital punishment by many. Before lethal injection, gas inhalation, electrocution, hanging, and death by a firing squad was used. However, now the primary method of implementing the death sentence in the U.S. is by lethal injection. In fact, every execution on American soil since 2005 has been done by this method. In the following paragraphs, details about its history will be uncovered.

The invention of the lethal injection

On January 17, 1888, an American doctor, Julius Mount Bleyer, came up with the idea of lethal injection. It involved high doses of morphine (Blanco, Janell). The main attributes he cited was the method being cheaper and more humane than hanging. However, his concept was eventually disregarded due to the public disapproval to electrocutions and because of technical issues with executions in general (Takahashi, Patrick K.).

Nazi Germany

The next happening in the history of the lethal injection was in Nazi Germany. The Nazis developed methods of mass murder, and one of them was death by injection. In particular, Nazis targeted Catholic children by sending them to hospitals for “treatment” where they would live for a few weeks before they were injected with toxins. After they died, the children’s bodies were used to study anatomy and for medical research. But it is said this was a farce, and that it was genocide in the guise of “studies.” In fact, their deaths were commonly recorded as being due to pneumonia, even though injections of phenol were given to them (Lifton, Robert Jay).


America made the subsequent step. In 1977, the state of Oklahoma proposed “Chapman’s protocol,” named after state medical examiner Jay Chapman. It was described by Chapman as such: “An intravenous saline drip shall be started in the prisoner’s arm, into which shall be introduced a lethal injection consisting of an ultrashort-acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical paralytic” (Fellner, Jamie). Stanley Deutsch, Head of the Department of Anaesthesiology of the Oklahoma University Medical School, approved of the method. With this action, Reverend Bill Wiseman brought lethal injection to the Oklahoma legislature. It passed as a bill quickly. From this time up to 2004, all but one state in the U.S. that adheres to capital punishment has used this method. It might not be surprising with its history, but Texas was the first state to carry out an execution through lethal injection on December 7, 1982 (Groner, Jonathan I.).


In the 1990s, the world took notice of America’s advancements in capital punishment. Guatemala was the first country after the U.S. to implement this system in 1996. In the following year, The People’s Republic of China began using lethal injections. In 1999, the Philippines followed suit. Thailand started giving lethal injections in 2003, while Taiwan began in 2005. Lastly, Vietnam initiated its lethal injection program in 2013 (Kim, Jeanne).

As we can see, lethal injection has risen from being proposed in New York as a humane alternative to electrocutions, a method of genocide in Nazi Germany, a novelty in the state of Oklahoma, and an international method. The question of it being a better method than other types of executions is still left to debate, however.

Works Cited
Blanco, Janell. “Lethal Injection: Definition, History & Procedure.”,,
Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. Basic Books, 2017.
Takahashi, Patrick K. Simple Solutions for Humanity: Book 2. AuthorHouse, 2008.
Fellner, Jamie. So Long as They Die: Lethal Injections in the United States. 18. Human Rights Watch. Archived from the original on June 19, 2006.
Groner, Jonathan I. “Lethal Injection: a Stain on the Face of Medicine.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), BMJ, 2 Nov. 2002,
Kim, Jeanne. “These Are the Countries Still Using Lethal Injection to Kill People.” Public Radio International,

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