Jeffrey Toobin writes in The New Yorker about the grotesque search for sodium thiopental as part of the "three-drug protocol" for executions. He concludes that no matter how much we try to make the death penalty "more palatable," it's still barbaric:
...In 2009, Hospira, Inc., the sole American manufacturer of sodium thiopental, stopped production of the drug at its plant in North Carolina. The company intended to shift production to Italy, but the government of that nation, which prohibits capital punishment, demanded a guarantee that none of the drug sold would be used for executions. Hospira felt unable to enforce the agreement—and claimed not to condone such use, anyway.
What followed was a black comedy of increasingly desperate attempts by prison officials to procure sodium thiopental. Under pressure from European authorities, legitimate pharmaceutical companies began refusing to provide it. For a time, officials obtained the drug from a middleman in London, who shared office space with a driving school. Then, in 2012, a federal court told the Food and Drug Administration to block its importation, because the source had not been properly certified. Some states had already moved to replace it with the barbiturate pentobarbital, but Denmark, the sole producer of that drug, had refused to allow its sale for executions. Missouri then adopted a one-drug protocol, seeking to inject an overdose of propofol, a well-known drug used in medical anesthesia. (Michael Jackson died of a propofol overdose.) Here, too, a manufacturer objected, issuing a statement that the use of propofol “in executions—regardless of its source—could lead to sanctions by the European Union that would threaten the U.S. supply of this indispensable drug.” Now seven states, including Missouri, have turned to the shadowy world of “compounding pharmacies,” which can obtain and create drugs without F.D.A. supervision. The risks of these substances being contaminated, or insufficiently effective, are considerable.
...The oxymoronic quest for humane executions only accentuates the absurdity of allowing the death penalty in a civilized society. It’s understandable that Supreme Court Justices have tried to make the process a little more palatable; and there is a meagre kind of progress in moving from the chair to the gurney. But the essential fact about both is that they come with leather straps to restrain a human being so that the state can kill him. No technology can render that process any less grotesque.