Monday, December 23, 2013

Jeffrey Toobin: The Grotesque Search For A Lethal-Injection Drug

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.


Michael J. Mand said...

I have been an unwavering opponent of the death penalty ever since I could think for myself. That is probably the only position for which I can muster no abillity to compromise. I don't care how humane we make the state-sanctioned termination of life.

Imposition of the death penalty assumes we are willing to accept that innocent human life can be considered "collateral damage" (your words in response to a previous post of mine) in this quest for vengeance. There is not corrective measure for, "oops, my bad!"

I still don't understand this nation's obsession with revenge as opposed to justice. I suppose it goes hand-in-hand with my constitutional right to own an AK-47.

Jeff Tone said...

You cite the most compelling reason to oppose the death penalty: the inevitability of mistakes, with the innocent paying with their lives for the crimes of others.

I know that you are being sardonic in your last sentence.