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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Virginia lawmakers approve execution secrecy bill: Reprieve comment

Virginia lawmakers have today voted to pass a controversial bill designed to shroud the state's execution procedure in secrecy and shield the state and its drug suppliers from the Freedom of Information Act.

The bill, tabled by Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, proposes using secret batches of specially mixed medicines in executions by lethal injection. The proposal amends a previous bill restoring the electric chair as a default execution method, passed earlier this year by both houses of the state legislature.

Courts in Arkansas and Missouri have already struck down attempts to keep execution drug suppliers secret, and the use of compounded medicines in executions is opposed by both the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists (IACP). Last year, Virginia executed a prisoner using drugs that were trafficked from a secret supplier in Texas, contrary to DEA regulations. Texas has since confirmed this was an exceptional agreement, rather than a regular procedure.

Commenting, Maya Foa, Director at Reprieve, said:

"This is a step backwards for Virginia, and takes the state down a dangerous road.

“Virginia’s secret drug law completely ignores the wishes of pharmacists, who – like the companies who make the drugs – are in the business of saving lives rather than ending them, and who embrace scrutiny as a matter of professional integrity.

“Sourcing drugs in secret will drive the lethal injection process further into the shadows, removing any accountability from the process and increasing the risk of botches. This will expose the state to legal challenges, repel businesses, and damage its reputation for good Government.”

  • The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) statement, and that of APhA CEO Thomas E. Menighan, can be seen here.
  • In March 2015, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists released a statement which read:
“While the pharmacy profession recognizes an individual practitioner's right to determine whether to dispense a medication based upon his or her personal, ethical and religious beliefs, IACP discourages its members from participating in the preparation, dispensing, or distribution of compounded medications for use in legally authorized executions.
“The issue of compounded preparations being used in the execution of prisoners sentenced to capital punishment continues to be a topic of significant interest. It is important to first understand the origin of this issue: states are turning to compounded preparations for this purpose because the companies that manufacture the products traditionally used have unilaterally decided to stop selling them for use in executions. IACP believes that a national discussion needs to be conducted on whether a pharmaceutical manufacturer can restrict the use of FDA-approved products only to purposes that adhere to their corporate values.
“Pharmacy, and compounding in particular, is a profession of healing and care that is focused on individual patients and providing the best and most appropriate medications at all times.”
  • Details of Texas' arrangement with Virginia to supply drugs for one execution are available here.
Source: Reprieve, April 21, 2016

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