New Front Opening In The Battle Against The Death Penalty

This morning, the maker of a key drug used for lethal injection, Sodium thiopental, announced it would cease manufacturing the drug.  Italy refused the ability to produce the drug there unless Hospira Inc, the manufacturer, could guarantee the drug would not be used to put people to death. 

The company has long deplored the drug’s use in executions, but said it regretted having to stop production. Hospira continues to make two other drugs that, in addition to medical uses, are also used by states for executions — pancuronium bromide, which paralyze inmates, and potassium chloride, which stop inmates’ hearts.

The company’s Italian plant was the only viable facility where Hospira could manufacture sodium thiopental, Rosenberg said.

The current shortage of the drug had disrupted executions in Arizona, California, Kentucky, Ohio — which nearly ran out last spring — and Oklahoma.

In the fall, states including Arizona, Arkansas, California and Tennessee turned to a British manufactured source of sodium thiopental. But that supply dried up after the British government in November banned its export for use in executions.

Oklahoma went a different route, switching to pentobarbital, an anesthetic commonly used to put cats and dogs to sleep. The state has conducted two executions with the new drug.

Death penalty opponents are now going after both the drug makers as well as the states who use them in a different approach to their long fight against the death penalty.  At this very moment, there is a hearing on an injunction filed by the Georgia based and internationally prominent Southern Center for Human Rights “ pertaining to the expenditure of public funds, purchases, inventory and expiration dates for drugs utilized in the lethal injection procedure in Georgia.”

The briefing on their website explains:

 An Emergency Injunction was filed on January 20, 2011, seeking either an expedited hearing or stay of execution and full access to public records.  A hearing was granted, which will address the Georgia Department of Corrections’ failure to disclose public records within the statutory timeframe pertaining to the expenditure of public funds, purchases, inventory and expiration dates for drugs utilized in the lethal injection procedure in Georgia. Information contained in these records are not exempt from public disclosure and are critical to addressing whether the State of Georgia is executing convicted persons by lethal injection, in a manner permitted by the constitution and in compliance with accepted medical and ethical standards.

With supplies short, the requested info can yield two pieces of information critical to this battle:  1) When was the last drug purchased, and what is it’s shelf life/is the drug which is in tight supply expired or nearing expiration?, and more importantly 2) who manufactures the drugs used.  The second item being the key information that led to Hospira’s decision above.

Drug companies spend millions marketing their image as the ones who save lives.  Death penalty opponants are now spending court time discovering which ones also profit off of ending them.


  1. Mike Stucka says:

    Maybe I’m being gruesome and woefully informed both — wouldn’t be the first time — but I’ve never understood how the cocktails came to be. Seems to me plenty of people lose consciousness from some single drugs alone, then lose respiratory ability, as with morphine or heroin. There may be another technical solution out there.

    That said, my understanding of the death penalty fights has always been that it’s a strange dance between the technical and the legal and moral, in ways that sometimes overlook the sensible or the practical.

  2. Dave says:

    Sure there’s another solution, Mike. A .22 long rifle cartridge would be cheaper and they make millions of them. Problem solved. God, that was easy!

    • Mike Stucka says:

      You might note that the Wikipedia entry on Gary Gilmore cites two different U.S. Supreme Court cases involving Georgia, which involve the means of the death penalty …

    • Rick Day says:

      that would mean one person firing at close range into the head in order for a bullet to have a chance of doing lethal damage. Anything else is just plain cruel. We don’t shoot dogs or cats and we damn sure don’t execute humans with tiny bits of high velocity metal.

      When you look in the mirror in the morning, do you see the sub-human that apparently has no problem with the state having a completely subjective and arbitrary power of life or death? How about we make you the executioner and you just strangle the tied down convict with your bare hands?

      I’ve always felt those who ‘support’ state sponsored murder should be forced to be an executioner for one. Then we will see if your disconnect from this horror show is still steeled.

      Needless to say, anyone who supports murder of any type has some judgement in the after life to face.

      • dorian says:

        The process isn’t subjective or arbitrary. It is actually quite difficult and rare, and this is precisely how it should be. It isn’t good enough just to murder someone. You have to murder someone plus meet the statutory aggravating circumstances. These are varied, but generally involve rape, torture, armed robbery. Things like that. Then the person gets endless appeals and has to be convicted by a jury (unanimously, twice.)

        I’ve always felt that people who support a blanket prohibition on the death penalty should spend a little more time dealing with the victims of crime and less time making overly broad generalizations from their little soap box. Maybe you could explain to the family of an eight year old who had his head blown off with a shot gun (true story) that the death penalty is “inhumane”.

        I doubt you will do that, because you would rather look down on the rest of us mere mortals and espouse your so-called ethics without ever having to deal with the people whose lives have been destroyed.

        • Rick Day says:

          actually, I would. even the family of an 8 year old can understand the concept of ’empty vengeance’ and ‘two wrongs do not make a right, nor do they bring back the living. They merely double the grieving family members’. I’d rather see that convict work in a prison farm the rest of his natural life earning revenue that would be forever forfeit to the survivors of the crime.

          You? You want vengeance. So who is looking down at who, sir?

          • B Balz says:

            I’m good with your hard labor until death plan, Mr. Day.
            With limited medical benefits, no heroic measures to extend life.

            For those of us that personally remember the horrible murder of Julie Love, a moment when Atlanta lost a bit of innocence, the death penalty is far too good.

            The idea of a prison farm, a la Cool Hand Luke, without the slightest chance of escape of reprieve seems a more harsh deterrent. As it stands now, the death penalty is no deterrent to a Jack Boy.

            Remember, thugs NEVER steal tools for a reason…

            We are in the Second Civil War and thinking death row is a deterrent for anyone other than the person convicted is nonsense.

      • Dave says:

        Never realized you were a ballistics expert, Rick. Various weapons of the .22 cal are used in hunting and not necessarily at close range. And what’s so awful about killing a murderer at close range? Beats smothering him to death in the gas chamber, doesn’t it. For a bleeding heart like you isn’t a quick execution more preferable to a minute or two of electricity or toxic fumes?

  3. Dave says:

    Oh, I’m sure you’re right but the .22 option is the cheapest and easiest to implement! But…maybe a nice rope and folding chair from Home Depot. Both are reusable!

      • Dave says:

        Rick, you’re an idiot. Your comeback was the stuff of great mental gymnastics, though. I have no problem whatsoever with state sponsored killing of murderers and vile human debris. I’m sure you were proud when Michael Dukakis told former CNN anchor, Bernie Shaw, that he would not want to the death penalty for someone who tortured, raped and killed his wife, Kitty in the 1988 presidential debate with Bush #1. What a wuss and a spineless worm the Massachusetts governor looked like. Probably helped contribute to his defeat. I actually dream of the day when I can be as advanced and high and mighty as you. You are developing into a higher form of human, I’m sure.

  4. chamblee54 says:

    Why do we use the antiseptic phrase “lethal injection”? Why not say the state poisoned the convict?
    There is a fresh post on a death penalty case at chamblee54 . While Emmanuel Hammond is not a very nice man, poisoning him will not bring back Julie Love.

      • Rick Day says:

        Harry, if you can show that the death penalty has worked as a deterrent, that people stop, calm down and think about their consequences before they murder, then I’ll agree. Otherwise, we have had a death penalty for as long as there have been humans.

        And we still have murder. A lot of it. The death penalty is not a deterrent. I won’t murder because it is wrong, not because I’m afraid of being poisoned by the state.

        • B Balz says:

          A thug, Mr. Day, is unable to think beyond the moment. That is why virtually anyone who is a law abiding citizen cannot fathom the issue.

          Applying a rational lens to an irrational problem creates a blurred vision.

            • B Balz says:

              Someone contemplating murder is crazy to think they can get away with it. Someone who acts murderously without contemplation was crazy for a moment.

              Crazy either way, I just don’t think ANY penalty is a deterrent to murder The deterrant is family/society/law is involved way before the act. There will NEVER be 100% prevention.

              So why kill? It is barbaric. Tough Guy Dave: Not every issue has a (D) or an (R) aside it, especially this one.

              As to Charlie and Dash: You two are hysterical, be sure to hit the tip jar on the way out, folks.

          • Lady Thinker says:

            Some murders are done while under the influence of alcohol or drugs so the killer is not always acting in a rational, thinking of the consequences, manner. The defendant isn’t thinking of getting away with something, they are thinking for the moment. To some people, killing another person is not much different than killing an insect, or a snake, or whatever at the moment the act is committed.

  5. Dash Riptide says:

    The death penalty needs to be privatized. The real issue here is the fact that the government is ineffective in coming up with humane, cost-effective ways to kill people. I say leave it to the private sector. If it were your family member about to take a government-imposed dirt nap, wouldn’t you be comforted knowing that the responsibility for carrying out the final deed rests in an invisible hand/invisible hands?

    • Charlie says:

      No, we’re not going to let you make these silly arguments for privitization when we all know what you really mean: offshore outsourcing.

      This is just your silly attempt under NAFTA to ship our executions south of the border.

      It’s always about the Mexicans with some of you people.

    • Lady Thinker says:

      I don’t think a private agency can administer the death penalty. In all the studies I have done, the govenment is the only agency that can administer the death penalty.

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