A cause for optimism? States running out of ways to execute people

Maker of execution drug midazolam says it won't sell to prisons

To borrow a speculative construct from pacifists about the fate of war should soldiers refuse to fight them, what would happen to lethal injections if pharmaceutical firms simply stopped selling execution drugs to prisons?

We may find out. One of the U.S. manufacturers of midazolam, used by several states in multi-drug lethal injection protocols, says it won't sell the drug if it knows it will be used to execute someone. 

Akorn Pharmaceuticals found itself dragged into an Alabama court record when the Illinois firm was listed in papers filed in connection with appeals by condemned murderer Thomas Arthur, who is challenging the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection protocol. The company said it has no record of its drug being sold to Alabama prisons, and objected to its inclusion in the court filing.

"To prevent the use of our products in capital punishment, Akorn will not sell any product directly to any prison or other correctional institution and we will restrict the sale of known components of lethal injection protocols to a select group of wholesalers who agree to use their best efforts to keep these products out of correctional institutions," Akorn investor relations director Dewey Steadman told the Anniston Star last week.

Remember, it was a revolt by (mostly) European-based pharmaceutical companies that made the executioners' drug of choice, sodium thiopental, nearly impossible to find. States have turned to compounding pharmacies, which are lightly regulated labs that primarily tailor drugs for individual patients, as an alternative source, but now some of those labs are balking at playing a role in capital punishment. And states are enacting laws making it a crime to identify sources of execution drugs, or those who take part. So in the name of justice we are moving closer to secretive executions.

Interestingly, the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a legal challenge to the use of midazolam in lethal injection protocols, a challenge based on a record of botched executions and that raises questions - again - about the nature of capital punishment.

I've argued before that the death penalty is an immoral act by the government, and that it is applied unfairly and arbitrarily, is an expensive system to maintain, and that it serves no purpose other than revenge. It is not justice.

Pharmaceutical companies don't want to be connected with it. The American Medical Assn. warns that "as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, [physicians] should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution." The American Public Health Assn. similarly tells members not to take part in executions. And the list goes on.

Of course, death-penalty states and proponents of executions will press for new ways of killing people, be it fresh drug cocktails or a reversion to the firing squad.

Let's hope that sanity, and civility, will take root, and the United States of America - the international beacon of justice - will end this despicable policy once and for all.

Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.


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