Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Drug Problem

It generally had been assumed that lethal injection was the most humane way to execute people.  The 3-drug combination of barbiturate (sodium thiopental), paralytic (pancurionium bromide) and heart-stopping drug (potassium chloride) was devised by Oklahoma state medical examiner Jay Chapman in the late 1970s, and simply adopted by 37 other states without scientific testing.  Chapman took only 3 weeks to come up with the combination of drugs and now concedes that his method probably should be revised.  A more rigorous examination of the lethal injection protocol temporarily halted executions in several states, including California, in the wake of several botched executions and after it was established, among other problems, that the paralytic may be masking excruciating pain.  A decision by the United States Supreme Court in a case arising out of Kentucky has made it more difficult to establish that this method of execution constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.  Nevertheless, states are beginning to consider using a single large dose of sodium thiopental, similar to how animals are euthanized.  This has already been done in Ohio.  A new problem, however, has arisen, whether the one-drug or three-drug method is used.  There is a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, and as a result, several states have been unable to carry out executions.  California's attempt to execute inmate Albert Brown failed after the state was forced to concede that its reason for trying to push for the execution was that the expiration date on its last dose of the drug was about to lapse.  Hospira, the company that manufactures the drug, has objected to its use in executions, but blamed the shortage on problems with its source for the raw materials.  After Brown's execution was called off, California revealed that it had obtained a new batch of sodium thiopental from an undisclosed supplier, although it did not not seek to reschedule the execution.  In Arizona, Jeffrey Landrigan was supposed to be executed today.  Officials claimed to have obtained a new supply of sodium thiopental for the task but a federal judge stayed the execution because the State will not reveal where or how they obtained it.  The most Arizona will say is that the drug has a 2014 execution date and is from the same supply obtained by California.  It further revealed that the drug was obtained from an unidentified foreign source.  This is beyond creepy.  There are myriad problems with the death penalty.  One is that we must rely on the good faith and competence of state officials at every stage of the process, from arrest to execution.  Exonerations, prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination, and now, this latest debacle with drug shortages and mysterious overseas drug deals establishes that we cannot trust the government to administer the death penalty.  We need to Just Say No.


Courtney Minick said...

Andy, we're having a lively discussion about this on Facebook, and your point really resonates with me: How are we ok with the state going overseas and buying drugs from an illegal source? What does it say about this process that the way the state goes about procuring the necessary elements for it by buying drugs off the internet(exaggeration, but for all we know it could be true, they are so secretive about it)?

I wish people would look at the big picture and see what a total mess this has become. If this is what we are resorting to to "constitutionally" execute the condemned, it should be a huge red flag to everyone that the process has completely broken down.

So. . . great post!

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