Lethal Injection

LETHAL INJECTION: Many States Changing Lethal Injection Process

On October 4, Ohio announced it will be obtaining its execution drug, pentobarbital, from a compounding pharmacy if it is not available from the manufacturer. Texas made a similar announcement a few days earler. In the past, some compounding pharmacies have been implicated in providing contaminated drugs with fatal side effects. These local companies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Florida announced it will be using a new drug, midazolam, in its October 15 execution. The drug will be part of a 3-drug process and has never been used before in executions. The 3-drug process can be extremely painful if the first drug is not completely effective. Missouri intends to be the first state in the country to use the drug propofol in its October 23 execution, despite the fact that the drug company that delivered the drug has asked for its return. If Missouri goes ahead with the execution, European countries may impose restrictions on the exportation of this drug, thereby affecting other uses for vital surgeries in the U.S.  Finally, Tennessee will now use only a single drug, pentobarbital, in its executions, though it did not say where it hoped to obtain the drug.

LETHAL INJECTION: The Ongoing Controversy Over How People Are Executed

One of the nation's leading academic experts on the death penalty has written a new article describing how the controversy surrounding lethal injections has greatly intensified since the Supreme Court's ruling on the subject in 2008 (Baze v. Rees). Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University, analyzed over 300 court decisions in the last five years citing Baze. She found there have been more changes in lethal injection protocols in that time than in the last 30 years, some of which have made matters worse. "The resulting protocols," she wrote, "differ from state to state, and even from one execution to the next within the same state," scarcely resembling those evaluated by the Supreme Court. As a result, "[T]this continuous tinkering often affects already troubled aspects of states’ lethal injection procedures, such as the paltry qualifications of executioners, the absence of medical experts, and the failure to account for difficulties injecting inmates whose drug-using histories diminish the availability of usable veins." She also addressed states' attempts to handle drug shortages, including changing drugs and turning to compounding pharmacies, whose recent record of contamination and resultant deaths have led to calls for greater regulatory oversight. She concluded, "Until death penalty states are willing to focus more on solutions than secrecy, lethal injection as a method of execution will remain mired in an endless cycle of difficulty and disorder."

EDITORIALS: Ohio Paper Calls for Transparency and Caution in Selecting Execution Process

As Ohio prepares to change its execution process in October, the Toledo Blade called on the state to stop the secrecy surrounding the selection of an alternative to current lethal injection drugs. The editors wrote, “No state should proceed with scheduled executions until the drug, or multidrug cocktail, it plans to use has been proven to be humane and efficient. The process of changing how people are executed in Ohio should unfold with far more transparency than the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has shown so far.” The editorial cautioned against decisions based on convenience or the availability of a drug, without proper research: “Other states are turning to untested methods such as propofol, without knowing how much pain it causes or even what dose should be administered. Expediency has trumped morality, as the process has become more haphazard.” Read the editorial below.

LETHAL INJECTION: Many States Are Searching for New Execution Drugs

Many states are seeking alternative ways to carry out executions by lethal injection. Missouri announced it intends to use the anesthetic propofol, though no other state has used this drug and the drug's manufacturer has strongly objected to such use. Officials in Texas and Ohio announced they will be changing their execution protocols in the near future because their current execution drug (pentobarbital) is expiring and is no longer available for this use. In June, officials in California announced it would abandon its three-drug execution method and develop a new process. Georgia apparently obtained drugs outside the state, but has passed a law making all information about executions a "state secret."  Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and an expert on methods of execution, noted the problems states face, “The bottom line is no matter what drugs they come up with, despite every avenue these states have pursued, every drug they have investigated has met a dead end. This affects every single execution in the country. It just stalls everything, stalls the process.”

LETHAL INJECTION: Shortage of Drugs Leaves Texas Unsure About Future Executions

On August 1, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced its remaining supply of pentobarbital, used for lethal injections, expires in September, and it is unsure where to obtain more. The drug's manufacturer, Lundbeck, Inc., has barred distribution to states intending to use the drug in executions. DPIC’s Executive Director, Richard Dieter, remarked, “What’s happening is a scramble by Texas and other states to find something to quickly get into the syringe, rather than a reasoned public discussion about, if we’re going to do this, what is the best practice. The problem here is that life-saving drugs used by medical professionals are being used in executions, and the drug companies don’t want to be a part of that.” In recent months, other states have sought alternatives to pentobarbital. Missouri said it intended to use propofol, though its manufacturer also opposed such use. Georgia, Arkansas, Nebraska, California and other states are also reviewing execution procedures in response to problems with earlier protocols.  On August 1, a federal District Court in Florida ordered the state to reveal information about the drugs to be used in the upcoming execution of John Ferguson on August 5. Florida replied that it received doses of pentobarbital manufactured by Hospira, Inc. for Lundbeck, Inc. from Cardinal Health in Ohio. The drugs were received in 2011 and have expiration dates of Sept. 30 and Nov. 30, 2013.

LETHAL INJECTION: Appeals Court Rules FDA Violated Its Duties When Permitting Shipment of Unapproved Drugs

On July 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously affirmed a lower court ruling that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to fulfill its duties under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) when it permitted without inspection the importation of foreign drugs for use in lethal injections. The Court concluded, "The FDCA imposes mandatory duties upon the agency charged with its enforcement. The FDA acted in derogation of those duties by permitting the importation of thiopental, a concededly misbranded and unapproved new drug, and by declaring that it would not in the future sample and examine foreign shipments of the drug despite knowing they may have been prepared in an unregistered establishment." In 2009, the last U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental announced it would cease production of the drug commonly used by states in lethal injections. Some states then turned to international manufacturers and imported drugs which were not approved by the FDA. The ruling rejected the FDA’s claim that it had discretion to allow unapproved drugs into the U.S.  Read full text of the ruling.

Georgia Judge Finds State's Lethal Injection Secrecy Law Interferes With Constitutional Rights

On July 18, a Georgia Superior Court judge ruled that the state’s new law shielding the source of lethal injection drugs interfered with Warren Hill’s right to challenge his method of execution and is therefore probably unconstitutional. According to the law, information pertaining to drugs used in executions is classified as “confidential state secrets” and cannot be disclosed. Judge Gail S. Tusan said the law " "To be executed without being aware of basic information regarding the protocols the State will use to carry out such an execution is surely an irreparable harm." Moreover, she said neither Warren Hill “nor the general public, has sufficient information with which to measure the safety of the drug that would be used to execute [Hill], as there is insufficient information regarding how it was compounded.” Judge Tusan concluded that the law improperly interfered with the court's duty to make a judgment about the planned execution: "[the law] explicitly exempts from judicial review the very information that would be necessary for a court to determine the constitutionality of an inmate’s execution." The court stayed the execution of Hill, who also has a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding his mental retardation.

LETHAL INJECTION: Federal Judge Requires Louisiana Officials to Reveal Details of Lethal Injection Protocol

On June 4, a federal magistrate ruled that the Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections must reveal the details of the state's lethal injection protocol. The ruling rejected the argument that disclosing the protocol would raise “serious security concerns.” The ruling by Judge Stephen Riedlinger was on a motion related to the lawsuit filed by death row inmates Jessie Hoffman and Christopher Sepulvado, who contended that due process requires they be fully informed about the state’s execution process. Michael Rubenstein, defense attorney for Hoffman and Sepulvado, noted that, “Not only are lethal injection protocols widely available in other states, the courts have rejected the very argument that the Defendants seek to advance.” Texas and Mississippi, for example, have publicly disclosed their lethal injection protocols. In Texas, the protocol includes specific location of the inmate, the timing of the inmate’s transport to the location of the execution, and other information. The Department of Safety and Corrections now has 14 days to provide Hoffman and Sepulvado’s defense attorneys with the lethal injection protocol.

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