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Supreme Court Weighs Pain of Deadly Injection

The Supreme Court hears arguments on what condemned inmates can do to challenge their method of execution. The Florida case centers on whether an inmate should get a federal court hearing on his claim that the lethal-injection method causes unnecessary pain.

Inmate Clarence Hill was convicted of killing a police officer. In January, Hill's execution was stayed by the Supreme Court as he lay strapped to a gurney in Florida's death chamber.

Thirty years ago, death by lethal injection was conceived of as a more humane way to execute the condemned -- 37 states now use the method. But the lethal cocktail that is administered has not changed, and critics charge that unnecessary suffering is caused by both the cocktail and the lack of training for those who administer it.

Another issue is that the anesthesia that is first administered is short-term, critics say. Death-penalty lawyer Ted Doss, speaking outside the Supreme Court, said that the paralytic administered after the anesthesia prevents the condemned man from indicating if he is still conscious and feeling.

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Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.