Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 6, Episode 10 - Lethal Injection - full transcript

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Welcome to Last Week Tonight.

I'm John Oliver.
Thank you for joining us.

A quick recap of the week.
We begin in Washington,

where Bill Barr failed to turn up
to a congressional hearing,

an act that prompted
this prop comedy.

Congressman Steve Cohen munched
on a bucket of fried chicken

and flaunted a ceramic chicken
to drive his point home.

What is the message
you're trying to send?

Bill Barr is a chicken.

Yeah, we get it.
You've made that painfully obvious.

It gets more pathetic, because
the hearing was at 9:30 A.M.

The nearest KFC didn't open until
10:30 and Cohen admitted

he bought the chicken the night
before and kept it in his fridge.

Which is just tragic.
He's biting into leftover KFC

or, as it's more commonly
known, trash.

That means this adult man
probably laid in bed all night

thinking about how awesome
his joke was going to be.

He was wrong about that.
The grandstanding nonsense didn't stop,

because Republican Thom Tillis
decided to go on the attack.

This guy didn't even have good enough
sense to have Bojangles' chicken.

They've got the chair and others
letting him have that kind of theater

in a House Committee room.

It's pathetic theater to eat KFC.
But not to rush to Kinko's

and laminate a poster image
of someone eating KFC.

I do realize we've just shown
a lot of KFC on our show,

which might encourage them
to send us some.

Please do not send us anything.

We do not want your weird
fried pigeon parts,

nor your bowls of whatever someone
shit out after they ate the pigeon.

Your items are not welcome.
Let's not focus on U.S. politics.

Let's turn to Australia, the country
that brought you Yellow Tail wine,

the party gift that says:

"Thanks for the invite, but your
friendship is not reciprocated."

Australia has a federal election
on May 18th

and their campaign
is less than a month old,

but there's already been a
ridiculous amount of scandals.

Steve Dickson, a leader in the far
right One Nation Party,

got in trouble when footage
surfaced of him at a U.S. strip club.

The secret video shows
the happily married politician

groping dancers and asking them
to come home with him.

It's a bad look and very
bad judgment from a man

who campaigns on family values.

I love the fact that she mentioned
that this was a bad look

because he campaigned
on family values,

as if the worst part of groping people
in a strip club

was that he wasn't behaving
"on brand".

Sure, he's a married man at
a strip club, groping the dancers,

but why wasn't his wife and children
with him in a sticky booth?

That would have made
all this fine.

Sexual Harassment Dundee here
is by no means

the only spectacular implosion
of this campaign.

A shocking number of candidates
have got in trouble

over offensive social media posts:
this one for anti-Muslim posts,

for anti-Semitic posts,
for homophobic remarks,

this one for a rape joke,
and this one, Ross MacDonald,

for a plethora of lewd photos
he posted to his own Facebook,

including a photo of himself grabbing
a woman's breasts in a Thailand bar.

Which I'd say is the grossest
thing on his Facebook page,

were it not for a post labeled
"MMMM! Interesting thoughts"

attached to this photo of a woman
Photoshopped to look like a horse.

I do not think she should have been
disqualified from the Kentucky Derby.

You ran a good race, sexy naked horse
lady. On to the Preakness for you.

The most eye-catching candidate
is Clive Palmer,

head of his own
"United Australia Party".

A brash businessman with a populist,
anti-establishment platform.

If that's reminding you of someone,

wait till you hear him yelling
at a news anchor.

We've gotta stop about the fake news,
people attacking individuals.

My wealth's $4000 million,
do you think I give a stuff

about what you personally think
or anyone else?

I care about this country!

God bless Australia.
Put Australians first!

That's all pretty Trumpy.
Arrogance? Check.

Red tie? Check. He even has
billboards with his campaign slogan

"Make Australia Great".

Which notably doesn't say
"Make Australia Great Again".

Let's not rewrite history here.
We are, and have always been,

a big baking rock full
of huge spiders.

We're looking to go up from here.

Make Australia great
for the first time.

Palmer has positioned
himself as a political outsider,

despite the fact he was elected
before, in 2013,

and became a joke for being
the most absent politician

and for this moment, where
he either fell asleep in Parliament,

or realized he had to govern,

and so just played possum
until the next election cycle.

All you really need to know
about Clive Palmer

is two of his most
eye-catching business ideas:

his failed Jurassic Park-inspired
dinosaur park, "Palmersaurus".

And then there's this idea that
he's been working on for years.

The Titanic II will be
a ship of peace.

It will sail from China
to South Hampton,

from South Hampton to New York,
from New York to South Hampton.

By learning from the lessons of
the past, the spirit of Rose and Jack,

Romeo and Juliet
lives in all of us.

The spirit of life, the spirit of love,
to dream the impossible dream.

All of us live in time.
This is our moment,

it's our turn
to board Titanic II.

Titanic was the ship of dreams.

Titanic II is the ship
where dreams will come true.

That's an incredible idea,
coherently expressed. Pure gold.

Except, I do have a few notes.
First, the Titanic, as a boat brand,

is famous for two things:
being big and sinking.

We have cruise ships that are
five times the size the Titanic was,

so that just leaves
the sinking part.

I'm not sure how Titanic II constitutes
"learning the lessons of the past",

when one of those lessons is sitting
at the bottom of the North Atlantic.

Why is one of those lessons
"Jack and Rose",

not historical figures,
neither are "Romeo and Juliet",

which have as much
to do with the Titanic

as the Titanic has to do
with Australia?

Their spirits don't live in anyone.
Had they lived, they'd be dead,

along with everyone else
on the Titanic.

And fifth, the Titanic II.
That's your name?

The Titanic had
two identical sister ships

and do you know
what they were called?

Something a lot better than that!

Clive Palmer's Titanic II project
is representative

of his entire political
platform in this election.

He's unlikely to win many seats,
his pitch seems to be:

"Let's take a historic disaster
and for some reason, do it again,"

"only somehow dumber, worse,
and in Australia this time."

And now, this.

If You Live In Texas,
Lawyer Jim Adler

Would Like A Perfectly Normal
Word With You.

Greedy insurance companies
play dirty. Bring it on.

I'm Jim Adler.

Their lawyers will do their
tricky best to give you zero.

I'm Jim Adler, the Texas Hammer

and I do my best
to bring 'em down!

I get angrier than a junkyard dog!
I stand tough and carry a big hammer.

I growl and bark.

- Wake up!
- It's Hammer-time!

I'm Jim Adler,
the Texas Hammer.

And I'm Bill Adler,
the Texas Hammer!

Smash 'em with two hammers.

Double down.

Double the hammers,
double the justice.

I fight for your medical bills,
paychecks, pain and suffering.

- Jim Adler, Texas Hammer.
- Bill Adler, Texas Hammer.

- We stand tough.
- And carry a big, big hammer.

I thought so.

Moving on. Our main story tonight
concerns the desert rain frog.

If you think: "I don't
care about the desert rain frog",

maybe this
will change your mind.

This desert rain frog sounds
like a dog toy but actually,

this is the sonorous war cry
of a very angry frog.

How fucking great is that? That's
what it sounds like when it's mad!

How does it sound when it's
happy? What a frog!

Won't it be fun to learn
more about that tonight?

We're not gonna be able to do that,

because our actual main story
is about lethal injection.

That's right, only three more episodes
with the greatest lead-in

in modern television history and
I'm burning one on lethal injections.

It's a subject that doesn't
come up very much

because, frankly,
no one wants it to.

Lethal injections aren't something
people want to think about.

They happen frequently in America.

There was one in Georgia
three nights ago.

I know that there are differing
views on the death penalty.

Some believe it's a deterrent to crime.
Some believe it's justice.

And some, like Wyoming State
Senator Lynn Hutchings,

believe it's justified for
the weirdest reason.

The greatest man who ever lived
died via the death penalty

for you and for me.

I'm grateful to him for future
hope because of this.

If it wasn't for Jesus dying
via the death penalty,

we would all have no hope.

Your argument for the death penalty

is that it got us a Jesus once,
maybe one day,

if we kill enough people,
we'll get another one?

We'll get a bonus Jesus?
Let's keep rolling the dice,

Papa needs
a new pair of Jesuses.

My personal view on the death penalty
is different to that,

I don't think
it should exist.

There's no proof it has an effect
on bringing down crime,

it's more expensive to execute
than to keep them in prison for life,

and it's wrong.

It's a bad thing the government
should not be able to do.

Which makes my first two
points irrelevant there.

Listing reasons
you don't support it

is like listing reasons
you'll not fuck your mom.

We don't have much chemistry,
she lives 300 miles away,

and, yeah, she's my mom.

I understand it can be hard
to sympathize

with people convicted
of heinous crimes.

According to one study,

4 percent of people sentenced
to death are innocent,

which in itself should give us pause
about the whole enterprise.

It's the equivalent of "it would make
things pretty weird with Dad."

Not the main reason not to do
it, and yet,

it should be disqualifying enough
on its own.

Let's say that you don't care
and you support the death penalty.

There's still the question
of how you do it.

Lethal injection came into vogue

because it was seen as a humane
and painless method.

It gained popularity
four decades ago,

as states started getting queasy about
the horrors of the electric chair.

One senator from Louisiana
explained his vote to switch

to lethal injection back then
pretty nicely.

I am for capital punishment,
but there is a more humane way.

I have seen evidence
in my committee this year.

I've seen photos of persons
that were electrocuted

and it is, I guess you would say,
kind of gross.

This is probably a step
in the right direction.

"Kind of gross?"

The electric chair set some
people's heads on fire,

so that's "kind of"
an understatement.

Putting mayonnaise on pizza
is kind of gross.

Otherwise cute dogs with large
erections are kind of gross.

Frying a human being until
their body's a smoking husk

is horrifying.

Lethal injection was sold
as something akin to surgery,

a medical procedure in which
a doctor helps a person go to sleep

and then
they just don't wake up.

However much we want that
to be the case, it just isn't.

Let's start with the idea
it's medical.

That is more than
a bit of a stretch.

Injections aren't performed
by medical personnel,

for a pretty obvious reason.

In the US it violates ethical codes
for physicians to be involved.

So usually the people who are
involved in the executions

are not physicians, and they
are not properly trained

to do an IV insertion,
much less an execution.

Yeah, of course!
Anyone who's been properly trained

to perform a procedure
like a lethal injection

has also been trained
never to do that.

Hippocrates didn't say:

"First, do no harm.
Second do some harm."

The exclusion of medical personnel
extends to the design

of our lethal-injection process.

It wasn't developed
by scientists in a lab.

It came about when legislators
in Oklahoma tried to figure out

how to do it, and couldn't get
any doctors to work with them.

They turned to the state's
medical examiner Jay Chapman,

who warned them that:
"He was an expert in dead bodies"

"but not an expert in getting
them that way."

But he did helped them anyway!
So he wasn't an expert,

just an enthusiast with
a can-do attitude for killing people.

Lethal injection is being
administered by amateurs.

We're very much not under
the best of circumstances.

I'm afraid you're gonna have
to understand

some of the specifics
of how lethal injections work.

While the actual
protocol varies,

most administer
drugs in three steps:

first, they give an anesthetic
to put the inmate to sleep.

A paralytic to stop the limbs
from moving around.

There's no medical reason, it's for
the benefit of the people watching,

so that they won't see a body flail as
the 3rd drug initiates cardiac arrest.

The second and third drug
in this procedure are both,

in their own ways,

The third drug apparently feels like
"fire being poured into your veins."

And even the second drug,
for the benefit of onlookers,

is nightmarish, if you are
not completely knocked out.

If the inmate is not unconscious and
the inmate receives a second drug

that paralyzes the muscles,
that is a horrible situation

where you are awake but you can
not move, you cannot breathe.

So you have the sensation
of suffocating

and you can't communicate
to anybody.

You could be fully aware,
feel like you're suffocating,

but unable to move
or communicate,

while fire is about to be injected
into your veins.

This qualifies as more humane
than an electric chair.

It's like saying: "Which movie
has sexier CGI characters?"

"Zootopia" or "Monsters, Inc.?"

Probably "Monsters, Inc.,"
but it's not clear-cut,

and the question in and of itself
is disturbing.

If steps two
and three are torture,

the first drug becomes
critically important.

In theory, it's supposed to keep
you from feeling the other two.

We used to use a drug for this
called sodium thiopental.

But it stopped being made
here in 2011

and it's no longer approved
by the FDA for import.

Although some states have tried
to weasel around that restriction.

Five years ago, when Arizona
needed drugs to execute

an inmate named Jeffrey Landrigan,
it purchased them illegally

from a supplier operating out
of this driving school in London.

That is the most lethal thing
to come out of a British driving school

since Prince Phillip.

Even when that supply got cut off,
states didn't give up.

They looked for replacement drugs.
Texas tried buying them

from both a supplier in India
that also made illegal party pills,

and having them custom-made
by a small independent pharmacy

which also operated
as a gift shop.

Which is just perfect if you
want to pick up execution drugs,

but also give the inmate
a goodbye gift.

An oven mitt with googly eyes?
You shouldn't have, Barbara.

You really shouldn't have.
What is wrong with you?

Most states have given up
on sodium thiopental,

and instead they use
a drug called midazolam,

which is a sedative,
not a general anesthetic.

So it relaxes you, but doesn't
do anything to stop pain.

One expert has called it
a "martini in a syringe",

which sounds like A:
James bond's rock bottom,

and B: not nearly enough if
I'm about to feel suffocated

with fire in my veins.

When called upon in court to
justify using a sedative

during a procedure this painful,
states have relied exclusively

on this man:
Dr. Roswell Lee Evans.

He's testified as the key expert
witness in favor of midazolam

on behalf of six different states,
even though he's not a doctor.

He got his pharmacy doctorate
after 18 months of post-grad study,

before midazolam even existed

and has been working as a college
administrator since 1994.

And if you're thinking:
"How do you know

he's not been researching midazolam
since then?"

Watch this sequence of questions
he answered during a deposition.

Have you been involved in research
involving the use of midazolam?


Have you been involved in research
involving the use of diazepam?


Have you been involved in research
involving the use of lorazepam?


Have you been involved in research
involving the use of propofol?


Have you been involved in research
involving the use of pentobarbital?


In research regarding
the use of sodium thiopental?


Have you been involved in research
regarding the use of halothane gas?


Have you been involved in research
regarding anesthetics of any sort?


Two things are clear:
one, that guy is not an expert

on anything he's supposed
to be an expert on.

And two: there's a lot of overlap
between the names of sedatives

and the names of alien races
in selfpublished sci-fi novels.

I could imagine a book in which
Midazolam unite with Lorazepam

to fight the evil Halothane and
their minions the Pentobarbital.

I might not have to imagine that,
it's probably been optioned by HBO

in their upcoming
"Game of Space-Thrones."

In two weeks time,
this network is so deeply fucked.

It gets even worse: because
when this shaved Santa testified

in support of using midazolam

in a case that went before
the Supreme Court,

a full half of his 300-page expert
witness report consisted

Specifically, information
like this disclaimer:

"This is not intended for medical
advice, diagnosis or treatment."

No wonder that many inmates
do not want midazolam to be used.

In Arizona, some of them
sued over exactly this

and the Department of Corrections
hit on an ingenious solution,

saying that inmates could bring
their own execution drugs.

Which is pretty difficult,
with those drugs being restricted

and those prisoners
being in prison.

It's telling a one-year-old
to provide his own birthday cake.

How the fuck
am I supposed to do that?

I don't have the money.
I can't drive.

I can't even get out of this chair.
And I'm somehow supposed

to obtain my own fucking
Fudgie the Whale?

This is the worst birthday
I've ever had. Unbelievable!

When the head of Arizona's
Department of Corrections

was pressed on that plan,
he identified the problem.

You've never heard of a prisoner
on death row in Arizona

purchasing federally regulated drugs
for use in their own execution!


Have you heard of any prisoner
ever doing that?

Not yet.

Not yet! No one in the history
of America has ever done this,

but I think our inmates
can pull it off!

It is sweet how much he believes in
the people he's putting to death.

I've held off on describing
specific cases to you.

But there are many examples
that show how terribly things can go

when all the factors you've
seen come together.

The list of botched executions
is long, and it is horrendous,

but let's take just one of them:
Clayton Lockett.

In 2014, Oklahoma made him

one of the first to be executed
using midazolam.

Right from the start,
things did not go as planned.

Executing Clayton Lockett with
a new three-drug combination

took 43 minutes.

A phlebotomist tried inserting
needles into Lockett's forearms,

neck, foot, groin and buttocks.

Minutes after the execution began,
Lockett's attorney, there as a witness,

says his client kept trying
to raise up and even said:

"Something's wrong."

They wanted to hurry up with
as little transparency as possible.

This is what they get.

Yeah, that attorney is right.

He's late for a gig as a Penn Jillette
impersonator, but he's right.

What happened in that room was
incredibly gruesome

and the investigation revealed
how ill-prepared

the people administering
the injection really were.

The drugs were not delivered into
his vein. They went into the tissue.

There were no backup drugs.
There was no emergency plan.

Regarding the use of midazolam,

Mike Oakley from the Corrections
Department said:

"I looked on-line. Went past the
key Wiki leaks or whatever it is,"

"and I did find out midazolam would
render a person unconscious."

"So we thought it was okay."

They looked up midazolam
on "Wiki leaks or whatever".

Which is just not ideal, is it?
To make sure that doesn't happen again,

which is now a large banner reading

"Midazolam Doesn't Keep You
From Feeling Pain."

"Please Stop Using It
In Executions."

We also added that frog.
Just to cut the tension a little bit.

If you click on him,
he squeaks! See?

He's angry about executions
as he well should be. What a frog!

Lethal injection actually has
the highest botch rate of any method.

Last year, two inmates
in Tennessee requested

and were executed by
the electric chair

because they believed
it would be less painful.

In our desire to find
a more humane method,

we've let amateurs invent and
administer an unpredictable torture.

Even ardent supporters of the death
penalty, like this federal judge,

will acknowledge that lethal injection
isn't what we'd like to think it is.

Use of lethal injection is a way
of lying to ourselves

to make it look like execution's
a peaceful, a benign,

sort of like going to sleep,
and they're not.

You have proposed alternatives.
You prefer firing squad.

- Never fails.
- But you also said the guillotine?

- That's right.
- Really? The guillotine?

It's 100 percent effective.

Sure, but...
First of all there:

I wish that Lesley Stahl had been
around during the French Revolution.

Really? The guillotine?
Come on.

Robespierre, look at me.
Look at your old friend Lesley.

Come on.

If hearing a federal
judge endorse the guillotine

makes you uncomfortable,
wait until you find out

he stepped down in the wake of
sexual misconduct claims.

Leaving me in the unenviable
position of saying:

that MeToo'ed judge who thinks
we should be cutting off more heads

makes some pretty
interesting points.

The hard truth here is:

there is no perfect way for
the government to kill people.

You're probably thinking
of alternatives.

What about assisted suicide? Can't
we do the same thing with executions?

It's harder to kill a healthy person
than someone near death.

Doctors and drug companies won't
be involved in executions.

What about overdosing
them on opioids?

We've tried that
and one execution took two hours,

with the inmate gulping
like a fish out of water.

What about cyanide?
We tried cyanide gas in 1992,

the attorney general vomited
and the prison warden claimed

he'd resign if forced
to conduct another one.

I could list methods all night long.
The latest idea is nitrogen gas,

which seems like it's got problems
of its own, but at the end of the day,

coming up with different ideas
to do this, is a bit like coming up

with positions in which you'd feel
least guilty fucking your mom.

Missionary? That's good for her
hips, but you're looking right at her.

Standing up? Mom hates
standing for any length of time.

Reverse cowmom?
That's probably your best bet,

but it's appalling and you shouldn't
be fucking doing it In the first place!

There's no way to do this
and make it okay!

If the thing that's making you
comfortable with lethal injection

is that it's humane,
it isn't.

The fundamental fact to understand
is, it is a show.

It is designed not to minimize
the pain of people being executed,

but to maximize the comfort of those
who want to support the death penalty,

without confronting
the reality of it.

It's violent, brutal and will never be
anything other than that.

You might say: "I don't care what
happens to death row inmates."

"They're bad people."

Lethal injection isn't about who
they are. It's about who we are.

If, after everything you've heard,
you still think we should be

the kind of society that tortures
people to death in this manner,

we should be
like someone who looks at the list

of reasons not to fuck their mom
and does it anyway.

Which is a long way of me saying,
if we keep executing people

by lethal injections or any other
method, we are real motherfuckers.

And now this.

If You Think Jim Adler Didn't Also
Do His Ads In Spanish,

You Are Sorely Mistaken.

That's our show, thanks for watching.
See you next week. Good night.