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USA | Lethal Injection’s Dreadful Failures: How States Are Trying to Normalize Accidents

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Editor’s Note: This column is the product of a research collaboration with five Amherst College students, Mattea Denney, Nicolas Graber-Mitchell, Greene Ko, Rose Mroczka, and Lauren Pelosi. In a column last month, I argued that over the last decade the lethal injection paradigm decomposed as new drugs and drug cocktails were adopted in death penalty states. As this happened, the number of problems encountered during executions multiplied. Of all the techniques used to put people to death in the United States since the start of the twentieth century, by 2010 lethal injection already had shown itself to be the most problematic . Since then, things have only gotten worse As lethal injection mishaps multiplied, death penalty states did not sit idly by . Over the last decade, they responded in two ways . My research collaborators and I found that while some states modified their execution procedures to make mishaps less likely, others introduced greater ambiguity and discretion into their

Arizona switches drugs used for executions

Arizona Death Chamber
Arizona Death Chamber
The Arizona Attorney General's Office announced this morning that it will change the drugs used to execute persons condemned to death.

The new drugs, a cocktail of a Valium-like drug called Midazolam and a morphine derivative called Hydromorphone, will replace the single barbiturate, pentobarbital, which has become unavailable because its manufacturer does not want it to be used to kill people.

Consequently, commercially manufactured pentobarbital supplies have dried up for corrections departments nationwide, forcing them to change drugs or to have them custom made by "compounding pharmacies."

There are four Arizona death row prisoners whose appeals have run out and who are eligible for execution. But the Attorney General's Office has not asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for those prisoners because there were no drugs available to carry out the executions.

The Midazolam-Hydromorphone combination was used in January to perform an execution in Ohio, but not without problems. According to press accounts of that execution, the condemned man gasped for air and took more than 20 minutes to die. Arizona inmates executed with pentobarbital or an earlier drug, thiopental, which also is unavailable, usually die in about ten minutes.

The Attorney General's press release says Arizona will use a stronger concentration.

The press release also says that it will attempt to use a state statute that shields the identity of executioners to keep from revealing the source of the new drugs. That argument was knocked down in U.S. District Court in Phoenix last October.

In 2010, The Arizona Republic revealed that Arizona and other states were sidestepping federal laws to import the drug thiopental from England. Federal courts ruled that the drug had been illegally brought into the country. European courts also banned export of thiopental and other drugs for executions, which led European pharmaceutical companies to institute distribution controls on the drugs.

At least one American manufacturer of Midazolam and Hydromorphone has already said that it will refuse to sell those drugs for use in executions.

Source: AZ Central, March 26, 2014

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