This fall, the State of California rushed to execute Albert Brown before the expiration date of sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in the lethal injection "cocktail," lapsed. There is a nationwide shortage of the drug, and Hospira, the only U.S. company that manufactures it (and has objected to its use in executions) cannot produce more until early next year. After Brown's execution was called off, California revealed that it had obtained a new batch of sodium thiopental from an undisclosed supplier. In late October, Jeffrey Landrigan was executed in Arizona after officials there obtained a new supply of the drug from an unnamed source in Great Britain.
Lethal injection is supposed to provide a more painless and less grisly method of execution than the gas chamber, hanging, or the electric chair, the other recently used methods of state killing in the United States. The combination of drugs used was designed in the 1970s by a state medical examiner from Oklahoma without scientific testing and then adopted by the other states without further examination. (Oklahoma is now taking a different route, hoping to experiment with a new untested drug now that they can't obtain sodium thipental). Contrary to common belief, lethal injection may cause excruciating pain that is masked by the paralytic effect of one of the drugs -- particularly if incorrectly implemented. Despite countless examples of botched executions, state governments are demanding the benefit of the doubt. They insist on relying on new sources of sodium thiopental -- and, in Oklahoma, a new drug -- that for all anyone knows are untested, unsafe, and could result in unnecessary pain and suffering.
The refusal of the states to provide meaningful information about how they have obtained new drug supplies is as mystifying as it is disturbing. Hopefully, various challenges to the states' recalcitrance will result in more transparency. A lawsuit has been brought in London, challenging the export of the drug to facilitate an execution in Tennessee, on the grounds that this violated the E.U.'s ban on the sale and export of devices that can be used for executions. In Texas, a ruling yesterday requires its state correctional department to disclose the source of its supply of sodium thiopental. And a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Northern California this week seeks records from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) about its recent acquisition of sodium thiopental.
The more the governments that engage in state killing allow us to peak behind the curtain, the more we will learn about how flawed and how grotesque the process is. And that, undoubtedly, is why the government is trying so vehemently to keep their methods and sources a secret.
[Related posts: Drug Problem, Banality of Evil]