Thursday, April 14, 2016

Executions getting more and more difficult to carry out

In thirty-one American states, those convicted of especially heinous crimes can still face the death penalty, but it is getting harder to carry out the sentence, reported The Economist. Practicing states generally prefer to execute convicts by lethal injection—using one or several drugs to ensure a “humane” end to life. Drug manufacturers, however, would prefer their products not be used in judicial killing.
In 2011 Hospira, the sole US manufacturer of sodium thiopental (a barbiturate anaesthetic used almost universally by states for lethal injections) ceased production to prevent its use in executions. So began a series of efforts on the part of state governments to find alternative sources or new drugs before their supplies became exhausted. 
Several states have attempted to obtain drugs from abroad; in 2015, shipments to Nebraska, Arizona, and Texas were intercepted by the FDA, which maintains the imports are illegal. Other states have turned to compounding pharmacies: chemists who tailor-make drugs to fit individual patient's needs, but whose concoctions are not as consistent as manufactured drugs. Sixteen states have made it illegal to reveal the source of their drugs (to protect suppliers, among other reasons). The shortages are even encouraging some states to consider older, largely obsolete execution methods such as electrocution, the gas chamber, and firing squad as a backup. Utah passed the use of the latter back into law in 2015, having abolished it in 2004.
Virginia is the latest state to wrestle with the issue.  On March 28th its legislature passed a law allowing executions to proceed using the electric chair in the event of a drug shortage. . For those enforcing capital punishment, the search for a practical killing method continues.
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