Difficulty Increases For Procurement Of Death Penalty Drugs

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

When you hear Georgia’s legislators talk about most items of integrity in governance, you’ll hear them talk about the need for transparency.  When you hear them talk about the natural competitive advantages Georgia has to attract business, you’ll generally hear talk about logistics.  And when you start talking about the logistics of how Georgia procures the drugs needed to conduct executions…wait. What was that part about transparency again?

The ongoing battle over how to stop executions in Georgia has been led by the Southern Center for Human Rights, which a couple of years ago adopted a strategy to focus on the supply chain of Georgia’s lethal injection drugs.  It remains a tit for tat battle between the group and the state, with the group demonstrating an effective mix of creativity and tenacity over the issue.

In January 2011, Hospira Inc announced it would quit making Sodium Thiopental; one of the most commonly used drugs for lethal injection.  International groups pressured the company to quit making the drug, with Italy refusing to allow production in the company’s only facility which produced the drug unless the company could certify that the product would not be used for lethal injection.

Days later, the Southern Center for Human Rights sought an injunction in a Georgia execution case, revealing that Georgia’s supply chain for the drug included an unlicensed pharmacy in London England which was being run from the back room of a driving school.  They also argued that the drugs were mislabeled, and based on the paperwork on file for the drugs’ procurement, appeared to be expired.

In June of 2011, the group was back before the Georgia Composite Medical Board, asking for the physicians’ license of Dr. Carlo Anthony Musso to be suspended or revoked, claiming his importation of Sodium Thiopental was done without a license and violated federal and state controlled substances acts.  The U.S. DEA had seized Georgia’s supply of the drug in March based on the SCHR’s earlier claims.

Various other battles between the state and the group culminated in a general stay in executions was issued last August because Georgia’s final supplies of execution drugs had expired and newer drugs were being substituted.  That stay was lifted in February, but drug expiration and procurement remains a constant topic of concern.  Published reports as Georgia was preparing to execute Andrew Allen Cook and Warren Hill last month indicated Georgia’s current supply was set to expire on March 1st.  Cook was executed while Hill received a stay based on mental competence.

Transparency – the magic elixir that is said to fix all ethics woes – is being proposed as a late amendment to a bill before the legislature to fix this problem.  More specifically, the removal of all transparency from the death penalty administration is offered.  An amendment offered by Representative Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville proposes to make “state secrets” of those who conduct executions, act as pharmacist to dispense the drugs, and those who supply, dispense, compound, or prescribe the drugs.

Those supporting the amendment say that this is about keeping the personnel involved from being the victims of harassment or protest.  It would seem that making those protesting or harassing these individuals illegal may be a more corrective solution if that was the true motivation.

Instead, the state appears to be trying to shield the fact that the supply channels for the drugs needed to conduct the procedures as outlined by Georgia law are closing.  Many of the ways to procure the drugs to conduct lethal injections must be obtained outside of legal and licensed protocols.  Making this fact a “state secret” appears to be motivated much more by the desire to thwart those who have found multiple legal loopholes to stop the procedure than it does to shield employees from harassment.

The Death Penalty is one of the state’s most powerful forms of power.  As such, it is afforded the most stringent oversight available from our legal system.  These items are facts and truisms.  They will not change.

Georgia’s attempt to slide in legislation to avoid embarrassment as the state walks a fine line of quasi-legality in procuring drugs for a process that will remain under the highest review is likely folly.  The motivation is quite transparent in this ill-advised attempt to shield legal processes from public view.


  1. Nonchalant says:

    I think what we truly have here is a guerrilla warfare attempt to stop that which cannot be stopped via the democratic process, which is standard from a certain side of the aisle.

    The message needs to be that when warranted, this state will kill killers, and if we have got to go back to the old form of tying the live murderer to the dead victim and throwing both into the Tiber, because those who will not allow the state to do anything but that which they will allow are preventing any other possibility, then that is what we will do.

    The blunt fact is that there is no usually no good way to die for a healthy body, because the body does not want to. The final moment is usually not pleasant, regardless of whether or not the final moment comes from noose, chair, or bullet. As the murderer’s victim usually knew. Lethal injection was a way to provide death with humanity in those final few moments. It speaks well of us that we would wish to do such. But if opponents wish to take that option off the table, then we should simply make the affair as humane as possible, but with the finality needed.

    So…let’s see if we can simply reduce oxygen to slightly below that needed for life. The murderer will drift into unconsciousness, and die. Peacefully. And that will be the end of backdooring one’s desires upon the state.

    • Will Durant says:

      I really don’t understand why a hypobaric chamber is not used. Perhaps some feel it is too humane? It would also allow for organ donation.

  2. saltycracker says:

    Our legal system around the death penalty is a public paid nightmare. End it. Institute a lifetime of solitary confinement without amenities.

    • Nonchalant says:

      The following argument is not my main motivation for the beliefs I have, because they are a tad too little utilitarian for my taste, but they are a fact that must be considered when deciding what is best for society.

      Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the average cost to the State of a prisoner held in solitary confinement is $20,000/annum. And let’s say the average tax contribution per annum per capita is $1,500. Further assume that this tax contribution is the most significant thing these particular tax payers will ever do that has a chance to materially advance society, to build the kingdom, as it were, these taxpayers being otherwise ordinary plain folk working in mundane jobs of no great import and which are jobs that merely serve to keep the current pace in society. That in other words, by themselves, and by their fruit of their daily work, these taxpayers, when they die, will have left nothing behind them that truly made a difference, other than keeping the status quo. But they will have paid taxes. What good will those taxes bring?

      Well, for each prisoner who will never be released, and especially for those who are being warehoused in the way you suggest, until their bodies naturally expire (and of their mind we do not care), the equivalent of 14 people will essentially make no net contribution to society over their entire *lifetimes* because we have decided that we want someone to functionally die, but we don’t have the guts to actually do it. So we give the murderer a living death, devoid of even the life of the mind available to a prisoner in a normal prisoner population, because we are squeamish about just finishing the bastard. I’m not sure that is more moral.

      Life without parole does not come without opportunity costs. Therefore, as to your suggestion, if you truly want to kill somone because you think they have forfeited the chance to even lead a “normal” life in a prison population–if you wish to deny them any humanity at all–then you should actually just kill them, and be done with it.

      • Rick Day says:

        a quick and painless is not a deterrent. History proves this.

        However, the threat of LWOP should be enough to act as a deterrent, if such a thing exists…

        • seenbetrdayz says:

          The cynic in me wonders if having public executions would bring back some sense of deterrent.

          You know ye olden days when the headsman would put the criminal’s head on the chopping block and whip out a big farkin’ axe. And the towns-people would actually bring their kids out to these events and be like, “See son, you’d best choose your career path wisely.”

          I’m not in favor of the death penalty, but if we’re going to make the argument that it’s some sort of deterrent, let’s not half-*** it.

      • saltycracker says:


        OK by me, let’s be democratic and give the extreme criminal a choice – die or not participate in a “normal prison life”.

  3. DavidTC says:

    Ah, the facts the US has no manufacturing base and the US has a few behaviors, such, as executing people, that are outside the international norm, have combined to bite us in the ass. If we actually _want_ to do things that no one else in the world wants to be associated with, we need to, you know, actually have the _infrastructure_ to do those things ourselves. Duh.

    And why the hell, even if an American company can be found that _wishes_ to associate itself with the death penalty, would making the drugs be profitable unless they were really expensive? Seriously, we have a hard enough time convincing drug companies to make drugs that only help a few thousand people…why would they take on all the bad PR making a drug that is only purchased for about 50 doses a year? They’d rightfully charge thousands of dollars per dose for the sheer annoyance!

    Of course, the idea of just _not_ executing people is completely crazy.

    • Nonchalant says:

      The idea of the people actually and truly governing themselves, vice having elites do it for them, on their behalf, as part of a hierarchical society, is also an idea that both historically and currently (to a significant extent, even for the EU), is also one where the United States, this beacon of liberty, has also been outside of international norms. I thus inquire as to the extent I should care about international norms, vice satisfying myself I am acting justly. They who are of influence in other nations did not love us in 1800, and they often may not love us two centuries later. Those who threaten hegemony are often so viewed.

      I do note, though, that strangely enough that the common men of these nations we have historically been outside the norms of often have loved us, and do love us–enough to wish to be one of us. Therefore, when it comes to “norms” of overseas elites, I say we should inquire if we are acting justly, and if so, carry on. They of other nations will probably evolve into a tyranny soon enough. They usually do. It’s their norm.

      • Trey A. says:

        Sure, Nonchalant, we can continue to execute people even though many in our society strongly oppose the practice on moral, legal and religious grounds–not to mention the practical logistical grounds Charlie’s column mentions here.

        And there are plenty of “overseas elites” who agree with you, like the people leading the governments that actually utilize the death penalty like the U.S.: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Botswana, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mongolia, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Vietnam, Yemen and Zimbabwe. Quite a club there. What was that about “evolving into a tyranny soon enough?”

      • DavidTC says:

        ‘Vice’ does not mean ‘versus’ in English.

        I’m sure you’re going to attempt to justify that by claiming you using the Latin word ‘vice’, meaning ‘in place of’, except you’re not using _that_ properly either. ‘Vice’ is used to talk about _a person who succeeds another person_, not comparing any random idea to any other idea. You can talk about a vice president or a viceroy or even even extend that to calling godparents ‘vice parents’ or substitute teachers ‘vice teachers’ or whatever. You could even apply ‘vice’ to objects that replace other objects, like having a ‘laptop’ and a ‘vice laptop’ in case the first one breaks. That’s not strictly how the Latin works, but we’d get it.

        But you cannot talk about ‘vice-you-satisfying-yourself-you-acted-justify’, that is complete gibberish. You are not replacing yourself with another yourself.

        And BTW, ‘I do note, though, that strangely enough that the common men of these nations we have historically been outside the norms of often have loved us, and do love us–enough to wish to be one of us.’ has at least three grammatical issues with it.

        1) The second ‘that’ is wrong. Not just unneeded, but flatly wrong. You could have started the sentence at ‘strangely’, and that ‘that’ would be fine, but you cannot ‘note that strangely enough that’.
        2) You have failed to put any sort of punctuation around the clause starting with ‘of those nations’, which would normally be okay, except that we can’t tell if ‘often’ is part part of that. I.e., we can’t tell if you mean ‘the common men, of those nations we have historically been outside the norms of, often have loved us’, or if you meant ‘the common men, of those nations we have historically been outside the norms of often, have loved us’. Either of those is an equally valid reading that means different things. If you’re going to write crazy-long pretentious sentences, you need to learn how to use punctuation.
        3) You meant ‘The common _man_’.’ ‘The common men’ is not a phrase. And as you did say ‘men’, you can’t then say that they want to be _one_ of us. The common _man_ might want to be _one_ of us, but I suspect the common _men_ want to be _many_ of us.
        4) Strictly speaking, I think you mean they want to _become_ an American, not _be_ an American. This is not a grammar issue, it’s more a semantic issue. ‘Be’ implies they’re sitting there wishing the universe would rearrange to the point where they are _currently_ Americans. Or even rearrange to the point that they are now a different real person who is an American. (E.g., I wish I was Bill Gates.) This isn’t really ‘wrong’, it’s just a poor word choice. (Especially on top of the ‘men’ wanting to be ‘one of us’ issue…it’s like you’ve set up a Being John Malkovich situation here, where a bunch of foreign people want to replace one of us with all of them!)

        I don’t think I need to point out what’s wrong with when later you said ‘they often may not love us’. Did you really just say that someone _often_ _may not_ do something? Really? Well, at least that’s technically correct grammar, if completely insane phrasing. I sometimes may not appear to disapprove of speaking like that, but regardless of what it seems, I assure you that it is something which not very often I am approving of!

        And, BTW, no one who had any opinion at all on any topic in 1800 likes the US now. No one who was alive in 1800, regardless of their opinion of the US _then_, currently has any opinion on the US _now_. So I don’t think that sentence says what you think it says, although it is technically correct.

        But, please, go on speaking in that odd manner.

        (Before someone attempts to point out the grammar flaws in _my_ post, please notice I’m not some random grammar Nazi wandering around correcting grammar for no reason. I was just taking issue with this pretentious and deliberately oddly-phrased post and the weird misuse of ‘vice’ to mean ‘versus’. Trey A actually made the point I was going to make.)

  4. gchidi says:

    I’m not going to bother making the broad anti-death-penalty arguments. You all know them all. All I will say is that the state cannot demonstrate that it has the moral judgement necessary to take a life unless it can do so with less barbarism than the crime which supposedly commands death.

    For all the talk about just taking out a nine-mil — we have laws. Those laws, argued ad nauseum for decades, demand that when we decide to take the life of someone who can’t fight back, we do so without inflicting pain, as a statement of the superiority of our moral judgement. What does it say about our character as a state and a nation if we are willing to kill a man for breaking the law, then break the law while killing him? What does that say about how much value we really place on the rule of law? Deterrent arguments wither away in the heat of general contempt when both the law and the penalty appear arbitrary.

    So, find the drugs or leave him in a cage. We don’t get to make it up as we go.

  5. Richard says:

    I say bring back Old Sparky; I would recommend reading the dissent in the Supreme Court decision for all of the good reasons to go back to it. The one point that seemed to be missing, is the deterrent value to the perpetrator. I would be willing to pay more taxes for this, and, what about Saturday night at the electric chair? A flat bed tractor trailer, Old Sparky strapped down out in the open, parked on the court house square in the county where the crime was committed, and plugged into the nearest Georgia Power sub station. The option for a victim’s relative to throw the switch if they wished.

  6. Jane says:

    The state/society does have a right to self defence. However many killers are not an ongoing threat to society. I suport capital punishment but in very rare occasions.

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