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States to try new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids.

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The synthetic painkiller fentanyl has been the driving force behind the nation’s opioid epidemic, killing tens of thousands of Americans last year in overdoses. Now two states want to use the drug’s powerful properties for a new purpose: to execute prisoners on death row.
As Nevada and Nebraska push for the country’s first fentanyl-assisted executions, doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. They have warned that such an untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful, botched executions, comparing the use of it and other new drugs proposed for lethal injection to human experimentation.
States are increasingly pressed for ways to carry out the death penalty because of problems obtaining the drugs they long have used, primarily because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions.
The situation has led states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi legalized nitrogen gas this s…

Justice Breyer and the Death Penalty

Justice Stephen G. Breyer
Justice Stephen G. Breyer
To the Editor:

Breyer Continues His Push Against the Death Penalty” (news article, Dec. 13), about Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s dissenting opinion in the case of Ronald B. Smith, who was recently executed in Alabama, is far too generous.

Twenty inmates have been executed in the United States in 2016. More than half (including a client of mine) have sought last-minute stays of execution from the Supreme Court (as Mr. Smith did). Justice Breyer recorded opposition in only three of these executions.

If Justice Breyer sincerely has constitutional reservations about the carrying out of the death penalty, he should do what other justices have done upon reaching a similar conclusion, by voting to prevent the execution from going forward.

Until his actual voting pattern demonstrates principled consistency, his on-again, off-again critique of the death penalty not only helps sustain an arbitrary system, but it also exemplifies it.

Source: The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, Letter, David R. Dow, December 22, 2016. The writer is a professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

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