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Why an alcohol swab before lethal injection?


Specializes in Hospitalist.

Hey, another thread brought this question to my mind, and I'm hoping someone can answer it. Not a nurse yet, so I don't know know much about this stuff. Why do they do an alcohol swabbing on a condemned person's lethal injection site? Is it just protocol or standard procedure? That's what I'm guessing, but I'd really like to know. I've heard this topic joked about by comedians, friends, and family throughout the years. I'd like to be able to say, "___________ is the reason," when they ask next time. I have to admit, it does seem like a waste of alcohol, but I suppose they are trying to be as humane as possible about everything they can. Thanks for any info. Bye!


Specializes in Gerontological, cardiac, med-surg, peds. Has 16 years experience.

You answered your own question - protocol, standard procedure.

per wikepedia: the arm of the condemned is swabbed with alcohol before the needle is inserted. along with its antiseptic use, the alcohol also causes the blood vessels to rise to the skin's surface, making it easier to insert the needle. the needles and equipment used are also sterilized. one reason for this is because the needles are standard medical products that are sterilized during manufacturing. also, there is a chance that the prisoner could receive a stay of execution after the needles have been inserted as happened in the case of james autry in october 1983 (he was executed eventually on 14 march 1984). finally, it would also be a hazard for those handling unsterile equipment.

Now there ya go doing that thinking thing again. Stop it, I say. You swab the arm because that's what it says to do. :lol2:

galenight, BSN, RN

Specializes in Emergency Room.

I'm sure that delivering a lethal injection to an inmate is not the practitioners only job (that would mean lots of time off wouldn't it?!?). Not only is it standard practice, but I certainly wouldn't want to get out of the habit of using alcohol before IV insertion. What if I forgot on another patient, because the last IV I inserted was for lethal injection? Would I be excused if that patient developed an infection? Doubtful.


Specializes in OB, lactation.

If the alcohol makes the viens easier to get to, that would also be more humane.

Apparently a lot of executions have been delayed because of trying to get IV's in. If you look on related websites you'll see this comes up a lot. For example, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=8&did=478

Bumashes, MSN, APRN, NP

Specializes in Hospitalist.

Thanks. Very interesting info here. I was totally unaware of the effect alcohol has on veins. Very cool. Thanks all.

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