What Happens to Your Body When You Die of Lethal Injection 

Jeff Richard
407.7k views 8 items

It looks like your day has finally come. You've spent years on death row. Eating the same gruel. Pacing your cell. Just waiting for today.

And now? Now, it's time to go. 

The rattle of your cell door echoes down the block. The other inmates remain silent, as they're waiting for their own days. For now, a guard snakes a chain around your hands and feet. Leads you down a long hallway which ends in a small room. There, three walls are cold gray concrete. The fourth? It's a one-way glass mirror. 

You know who's on the other side. And they've been waiting for this day, too. 

Soon, a doctor - a specialist - enters the room, followed by a priest, and they're here because today is your day to die. What's your crime? It doesn't matter, because your mind is far from it. All you can focus is on is the small cart of medical equipment - vials and needles - being wheeled in, along with a set of lethal injection serums that will steadily enter your bloodstream.

Within a few moments, you'll be dead.  Read on to find out exactly what happens during a lethal injection.

Preparation is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list What Happens to Your Body When You Die of Lethal Injection
Photo: Ilya Repin/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

It's time. Once you're led into the execution chamber, a pair of prison officials instructs you to lie down on a gurney. It's one like any other you may find in a hospital, but the difference here is that these doctors will not be trying to save your life on this bed. They will be trying to end it. 

Now, you watch as the officials strap your arms and legs down with standard-issue nylon straps. Afterwards, they swab your arms with alcohol, attach an EKG monitor to the tip of your finger, and carefully insert a pair of IVs into your veins.

In a fleeting thought before your death, you may be wondering why there are two lines, instead of just one. The simple answer? The second is a backup, just in case you were praying for something to go wrong today.  

The First Injection: Anesthetic
The First Injection: Ane... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list What Happens to Your Body When You Die of Lethal Injection
Photo: HolgerVaga/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

You're strapped in, so it's time for the ride to begin. 

You glance over to find the prison officials are no longer in the room. In this case, they're in a separate area to keep them isolated from having to watch you die. In other states, there may only be a curtain separating you from your executioners. 

You hear a soft hissing coming from nearby. A machine has been activated that's going to deliver your lethal doses. Now, you see a clear liquid slowly making its way into your arm. From what you've learned, this is an anesthetic - sodium thiopental, to be exact - more commonly known as sodium pentothal

Soon, you'll be in a deep sleep.

You Will Fall Unconscious
You Will Fall Unconsciou... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list What Happens to Your Body When You Die of Lethal Injection
Photo: Cyprian Kamil Norwid/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

For a brief moment, you remember a time when counting sheep helped you fall asleep. Now, you're counting the seconds after the 100 - 150 milligrams of anesthetic has entered your bloodstream. 

One-one-thousand... Two-one-thousand... Three-one-thousand...

In your mind, you make it to about twenty-five seconds. Not bad, considering the typical amount of time it takes for sodium pentothal to affect the brain is around thirty seconds. And before you know it, you've succumbed to the anesthetic, and your nervous system, while still technically able to detect pain, has been neutralized so severely that you actually won't feel a thing. 

That's because this amount of sodium pentothal is a lethal dose itself. 

The Second Injection: A Paralyzing Agent
The Second Injection: A ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list What Happens to Your Body When You Die of Lethal Injection
Photo: HolgerVaga/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

By now, you're off in dream land, and this will all be over soon. You forget about the chamber you're in, the people in the adjacent room calmly administering your death, and have no idea there's another clear liquid slowly making it's way into your veins. 

Now, it's time for the paralyzing agent to do its job. That is, what's called pancuronium bromide, better known as Pavulon

This chemical compound is an advanced type of muscle relaxant, one which acts by paralyzing the lungs and diaphragm. In many instances, it is also used for surgeries in order to steady a patient's breathing. 

In those cases, around 40 micrograms are injected into the body. But in your case? You're getting about 100 milligrams' worth, which will cause your breathing to cease after around three minutes.