Capital punishment unethical while state uses cruel drugs

Last October, the supply of lethal injection drugs was depleted in Arizona. This has been an on-and-off issue since 2010, with anti-capital-punishment lobbies and successful litigation influencing European and American pharmaceutical companies to discontinue their drug cocktails for death sentence use.

With death row inmates awaiting execution and no viable drug on the market, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has been forced to select a new drug.

One of these drugs is Midazolam, a morphine derivative. However, large distributors of the drug, still persuaded by the anti-death sentence lobbies, have halted its sales with the knowledge that their drug would go toward the killing of inmates. In response, Arizona decided to buy from smaller distributors, with the promise that they will keep the identities of these distributors hidden.

 

 

Doesn’t this seem seedy, especially for a government institution like the Arizona Attorney General’s office? It reads like under-the-counter dealing on a product which will determine the expediency of death for these inmates. If a drug cocktail is faulty, an inmate can take several minutes to die in an extremely painful way, potentially violating the Constitution’s protection from “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Just a few months ago, an Arizona inmate took 10 minutes to die when executed with thiopental and pentobarbital, both experimental drugs. In January, an Ohio inmate took 20 minutes to die when injected with a Midazolam cocktail, the same drug the Arizona attorney general’s office has proposed to use now. Their logic: We will just increase the dose.

I am all for the death sentence when the criminal deserves it, but this goes too far. Our American justice system should not deal in savagery with these people — then we are no better than they are. As despicable as some of these criminals are, they do have the right to an expedient and painless death.

Due to the European pharmaceutical embargo, some lawmakers are finding the secrecy statute (where inmates are not made privy to the drug cocktail which will kill them) unconstitutional. Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish said, “I think that the secrecy statute is a violation of due process because access to the courts has been denied.”

In Oklahoma, two convicted murderers, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, asked about the drugs which would kill them, a question which would traditionally be met with silence. But now, with the impurity of the drugs used in recent months, lawmakers are beginning to think it is only fair to delay court proceedings until a proper drug has been discovered.

While the U.S. fights in court to put people to death, including the infamous Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, lawmakers need to quickly find a suitable drug. Yet, I don’t think it’s necessary to discuss these proceedings with the public. The grisly details of capital punishment are not relevant to most people, and I believe discussing mixtures of drugs that have the most potential to quickly kill a man or woman is not only unnecessary, but irresponsible.

Potent poisons have been used for thousands of years to kill people. To know that we still have trouble finding them in the 21st century is shocking and does not reflect well upon the bureaucracy in this country.

Reach the columnist at iagilber@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @izzyg25