Death penalty facing well-deserved crisis

The death penalty is in trouble. It is not because of public opposition to this barbaric practice but due to technical reasons. It turns out that the drug company in the US that made one of the three drugs that go into the cocktail that makes up the lethal injections decided to stop producing it because of the negative image it gave of a drug company being in the death business.

Ohio tried switching to a new and untested drug for the latest execution in January and that resulted in a long and agonizing death that reporters watching said was the worst they had seen.

Condemned inmate Dennis McGuire, 53, made gasp-like snoring sounds for several minutes during his 26-minute execution on Jan. 16, the longest since Ohio resumed putting inmates to death in 1999. He appeared unconscious while making those sounds.

His family has sued Ohio, alleging the use of the drugs led to a death that was cruel and inhuman. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is preparing a report on his execution. Gov. John Kasich delayed an execution scheduled for March until the fall to allow time for the report to be completed.

Furthermore, the barrage of negative publicity has made the drug company that produces the other two drugs in the cocktail urge governments to not allow the use of their drugs for executions because it is not good public relations.

Ohio’s most recent batches of lethal injection drugs were produced by a company that wants states to stop using them for capital punishment, records show.

Lake Forest-based Hospira Inc. says it manufactures the drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromophone, to enhance and save the lives of patients it helps treat. The company says it objects to their use in capital punishment.

NPR had a story yesterday on the problems that states are facing as drug manufacturers all over the world are objecting to their drugs being used this way, and some foreign governments are even stepping in to prevent the export of these drugs to the US. In listening to it, I was stunned by how it seems so normal to hear people calmly discussing various ways to kill people.

I am opposed to the death penalty. It seems bizarre to me that the governments should cold-bloodedly put people to death, however heinous the crime.


  1. smrnda says

    A good development. I’ve also been curious how prison ‘doctors’ who assist in executions avoid having their licenses revoked.

    The death penalty is barbaric, and it’s also a racist, classist failure which clearly is more about people getting their fix of institutional blood-letting than preventing crime, since it doesn’t work for that at all.

  2. says

    Civilized countries don’t have the “death penalty”.

    Corollary: Countries which have the “death penalty” are not civilized.

    The day I agree with killing prisoners is the day the wrongfully executed can be brought back to life. The words of those who call for more executions and fewer appeals border on being sociopathic. Considering how many instances there are of false testimony, police coercion, falsified evidence by “experts” including forensic labs, judicial misconduct, etc., I cannot understand how anyone can support it except for the wilfully ignorant and bloodthirsty.

  3. doublereed says

    There’s lots of other developments of how the death penalty is going away. Here’s an ACLU that talks about why 2013 was a great year against the death penalty:

    Only nine states carried out executions in 2013, and the great majority of them took place in only two states: Florida and Texas.
    A shortage of drugs available for lethal injection continued to hold up executions this year. California, Maryland, and North Carolina have not had an execution in over seven years due to problems surrounding their lethal injection protocols.
    The once execution-heavy states of Virginia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee had zero new death sentences this year.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    I agree with #2 that executions should be banned because of the possibility of wrongful convictions, but also I think it’s vital that those in privileged positions should serve as good examples. How can we say that murder is an evil antisocial act that deserves punishment when the very society that condemns it practices it?

  5. says

    Whatever happened to phenobaribitol and alcohol? Or a bunch of heroin and some vodka? Or would that be (shudder) illegal?

    That AMA and APA refuse to sanction members involved in this moral crime says a lot about those organizations, doesn’t it? And, of course they have members designing torture programs and working in torture camps. Niiiiice.

  6. machintelligence says

    As an unintended consequence will there now be a shortage of drugs used to euthanize pets?

  7. lpetrich says

    US conservatives claim to be worried about government power. But they seem to love government power here, and want more and more of it. Which makes “less government” empty posturing. Their real position is that they want the government to punish the lower classes, not help them.

  8. lochaber says

    I’ve also wondered why they don’t just use an OD of morphine or something.

    I mean, I can imagine some of the silly arguments conservatives will come up with, like how we don’t want them to enjoy it, or how we will now have junkies murdering people left and right for that final high, etc.

    I’m not entirely sure about how I feel about capital punishment in a perfect legal system, but if nothing else, I feel the U.S. ‘justice’ system is too corrupt and flawed to use capital punishment.

  9. Hatchetfish says

    It actually puzzles me why executions aren’t carried out by gunshot to the brain. It would seem that split second catastrophic destruction of the organ that processes pain (and all else) would be the least painful method. All I’ve ever been able to attribute this to is a rather hypocritical squeamishness on the part of state murder proponents. Presumably it’s rooted in a preference for either the less outwardly violent and visible process of the drug cocktails, or a less directly obvious causal chain between the executioner’s hand and its effects.

  10. Hatchetfish says

    Accidentally hit submit before adding:
    Either motive seems to betray that proponents are far more concerned with not disturbing themselves than with the suffering of the victim.

    Which, of course, is not surprising in the least. Most I’ve met would rather the suffering be maximized. The quest for painless methods is merely a sop to us who oppose it, and an attempt to skirt judicial rulings based on ‘cruel and unusual’.

  11. sailor1031 says

    ’ve also wondered why they don’t just use an OD of morphine or something.

    Morphine is bad, bad, bad don’t you know? The victim could become addicted.

  12. Jonny Vincent says

    The greatest military, industrial, economic and technological superpower in the history of the (known) universe cannot can’t figure out a way to put humans down humanely?

    Have they tried Walmart for helium? They must know some dentists with nitrous oxide? No veterinarians with barbiturates for much-loved family pets?

    On the whole, this species isn’t worth a spit. Plantation slaves cannot be shown how to die peacefully. Having been brought to a dying planet of vermin expressly to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune (mothers choose to be treated Right), they might not want To Be her long-suffering, insufferable slave of passion. They might simply choose Not To Be in pain.

    Objectified women want to Supply Pain Relief (comfort, companionship). For that, they need a marketplace of Pain or there would be no Demand for what they want to Supply. Of course, if they supplied lasting Relief, they’d lose their customer base.

    If death was shown to be peaceful and humane, they’d lose their customer base.

  13. jamessweet says

    A few reasons why it’s not done by simple opiate overdose:

    1) Much less control, especially if the subject may have developed a tolerance. A dose of heroin that would instantly kill me might be just another day for someone in the later phases of addiction. (A close friend of mine died of an oxycontin overdose a few years ago, and the amount they found in her body was well beyond what it would take to have killed a non-opiate user) Failed executions are even worse than successful ones.

    2) It is not necessarily a pleasant or painless way to go, either. Some fraction of the population do not experience euphoria from large doses of opiates, but rather nausea and other nastiness. Some of the time it would probably be fine, but other times it would be even more inhumane that the current procedures.

    3) It could wind up looking quite nasty. Remember, in the case of the three-drug cocktail that is currently preferred, only one of the drugs kills you: Another anesthetizes you, and a third paralyzes you so that it’s less unpleasant for bystanders. Truth be told, there’s no telling whether the unfortunate Mr. McGuire actually suffered any more or less than previous victims of state-perpetrated execution. It’s quite possible his mind was pretty much gone by the time the unpleasantness started; it’s also quite possible (and believed to be true but some death penalty opponents) that many of the condemned before him have suffered as bad or worse than he appeared to, and we just couldn’t tell because — terrifyingly — there were entirely paralyzed during the hellish experience. (Unfortunately, all of the people to whom we might inquire about the subjective experience here are deceased… go figure…)

    FWIW, while I do oppose execution on humanitarian grounds, I find that to be the least compelling reason against it, at least in an American context. So few inmates are actually executed, it winds up being pretty minor compared to other issues. More troubling than that are the disturbing number of wrong executions, but even in that case, the number is small (more than zero is too many, but I’m not sure that being falsely imprisoned for twenty years is all that much better than being wrongly executed… It is better, to be sure, but… how much?) Even more troubling than that are the racist and classist issues it brings up. Even if it directly affects a rather small number of people, the implications I fear have a knock-on effect towards all of society that perpetuates existing power structures.

    But. Worse than all of that? It’s just a really, really, really stupid idea. It’s a pretty ineffective deterrent, it’s hard to get it right, it’s unseemly, it’s expensive… There just really is no goddamn point.

  14. colnago80 says

    Re Marcus Ranum @ #16

    I agree. Just take ’em out and burn ’em at the stake. Those 15th century Catholics had something there.

  15. Jonny Vincent says

    moarscienceplz:How can we say that murder is an evil antisocial act that deserves punishment when the very society that condemns it practices it?

    The same way we say lying is bad but live in a Polite Society of insulting lies where you have the Right to remain silent but if you tell the truth, you’re a whistle-blowing traitor. #FreeChelsea.

    The same way we wring our hands over the bullying problems and in the next breath, assert the need for children to be made to respect their elders, or else! #BullyingEpidemic

  16. Vincent says

    Lethal injection is done with opiate overdose. Hydromorphone, the drug in this most recent execution, is in fact a more potent opiate than morphine. The drugs used historically are various sedative hypnotics, often including opiates. There’s no difference at all between what was done in this execution and using morphine or heroine or any anesthetic for that matter. Trouble is, all these substances kill by causing a respiratory arrest, which can take an extremely long time (10-15+ minutes in an otherwise healthy person) to turn into a cardiac arrest. Essentially, lethal injection drugs suffocate people until they become so hypoxic that their hearts stop. Anyone who’s ever had general anesthesia has had the equivalent of a lethal injection (except a medical professional helped you breath instead of watching you suffocate to death). None of this strikes me as particularly humane, or in any way acceptable behavior for a physician.

    All this aside, an infallible justice system would be a minimum prerequisite to capital punishment and even then, I still find it a morally bankrupt practice.

  17. Jonny Vincent says

    “… an infallible justice system would be a minimum prerequisite to capital punishment and even then, I still find it a morally bankrupt practice.”

    I believe justice itself is morally bankrupt.

    Psychotic mass-murderers are “sane”?

    If they’re calling the killers of children” sane”, it seems like we should be rethinking the entire judicial process.

  18. lochaber says

    Jonny Vincent>

    I think this is one of those cases where the anti-ableist language folk have a point.

    Admittedly, I don’t know many of the details of that case, but I’m under the impression that the legal definitions for ‘sanity’ tend to focus on an awareness/knowledge of ones actions. While I think there is definitely something wrong with Anders Breivik; I don’t necessarily think he was insane, mentally ill, or anything along those lines. Just that he had some horribly hateful ideas in his head, that he acted on in an incredibly hateful and damaging manner.

    In addition, I’m not sure how defining him as ‘insane’ would further the cause of justice, as I’m under the perception that defining someone as legally ‘insane’ means they aren’t capable of being held responsible for their actions. (but, then, I imagine there are all sorts of issues with differences betwixt countries, languages and disciplines, on top of issues with public perception and outcry, etc.)…

  19. Jonny Vincent says

    …defining someone as legally ‘insane’ means they aren’t capable of being held responsible for their actions.

    They’re not. How can someone be held responsible for actions which aren’t in their interests? Clearly they’re not in control of their actions. Breivik needs to be gently and humanely put down but he is a victim of the tribal propaganda the state uses to brainwash children’s minds to get them ready for war and the killing they’ll need to do for the glory of the cannibalistic, child-exploiting tribe.

    To profit, war profiteers only need to motivate.

    Of course, robots aren’t supposed to kill on their own initiative. They’re supposed to be mindless conformists who wait for the State to tell them when to kill. Breivik was guilty of being a corrupted robot who thought for himself. But why are they punishing him?

    Is there profit in killing children? Did he gain some personal advantage? Can one pursue their selfish best interests by mass murdering children? He’s being punished for being a victim of emotional state propaganda, used to make children passionately insane for slavery and war.

    Choked, bludgeoned, mutilated and castrated ex-lover but he's "Sane"

    Judges reject 99% of insanity pleas but every single Crime of Passion is provably insane. How can one’s interests be served by violently assaulting or killing humans when they hurt one’s imagined feelings inside their imagination? The extent to which everyone has been made passionately insane and incapable of perceiving their own best interests can be seen in the public’s reaction to violent crime. The jury “didn’t buy the idea” that he wasn’t sane to mutilate and castrate his former lover.

    Because if it was allowed, we’d all profit by killing each other! It was a nice try, but the jury wasn’t fooled. He broke the rules and profited by cheating, not fair! So now he must be punished for getting caught winning unfairly.

    Meanwhile, justice is getting more and more like this.

    It’s all messed up and a form of victim-blaming children made to be confused, passionate and violent for war.

  20. Jonny Vincent says


    OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Some of the three drugs used in a botched Oklahoma execution this week didn’t enter the inmate’s system because the vein they were injected into collapsed, and that failure wasn’t noticed for 21 minutes. Medical officials tried for nearly an hour to find a vein in Clayton Lockett’s arms, legs and neck before finally inserting an IV into his groin.

    By the time a doctor lifted a sheet covering the inmate and noticed the line had become dislodged from the vein, all of the execution drugs had already been administered and there wasn’t another suitable vein, the report noted.

    Lockett’s execution was to have started at 6 p.m., but according to a timeline with Patton’s letter a medical technician working from 5:27 p.m. to 6:18 p.m. couldn’t find a suitable place for an intravenous line on Lockett’s arms, legs, feet and neck. The execution started at 6:23 p.m. Typically inmates die in about 10 minutes. Patton stopped the execution at 6:56 p.m., but 10 minutes later Lockett apparently suffered a heart attack.

    It’s remarkable how often they manage to pull this off without people realising what’s going on.

    Agence France-Presse: Screams, Flames Among Horrors of Botched US Executions

    WASHINGTON — US executions are meant to be clinical and humane, but for some they end up resembling medieval torture, complete with the smell of burning flesh, screams, and scenes so gruesome that witnesses faint.

    “We put animals to death more humanely,” reporter Carla McClain said of a 1992 execution she witnessed, in which Donald Eugene Harding writhed and thrashed in an Arizona gas chamber for over 10 minutes before dying.

    Many of those executed in the United States in the last 25 years were not so lucky, suffering through executions in which flesh caught on fire, blood saturated shirts, and witnesses watched and listened as the condemned convulsed and screamed with pain.

    Horror stories have emerged about all the execution methods commonly used in the United States, including the electric chair, lethal injection and gas chamber, with most of the disasters due to human error.

    In 1983 in Alabama, a first jolt of electricity caused the electrode attached to John Evans’ leg to catch fire. Smoke and sparks also came from under the hood placed over his head, near where an electrode was strapped to his left temple. A second jolt was administered, but despite the smoke and smell of burning flesh, doctors discovered Evans’ heart was still beating and applied a third jolt that finally killed him after 14 minutes.

    Two years later, in Indiana, William Vandiver received five separate jolts of electricity over the course of 17 minutes before his heart stopped.

    Jesse Joseph Tafero was sentenced to death by electric chair in Florida in 1990, but a synthetic sponge that was used during his execution caught fire, causing six-inch flames to erupt from his head.

    Sentenced to death by gas chamber in Mississippi in 1983, Jimmy Lee Gray had the misfortune to be put to death by an executioner who later admitted he was drunk. Gray’s gasps and moans so horrified observers that the witness room was cleared by officials.

    But for Bennie Demps, who spent 33 minutes of agony as execution technicians tried to find a back-up vein that could support an alternate intravenous drip in case the first one failed, the pain was excruciating.

    In Angel Diaz’s case, in Florida in 2006, a single dose of the lethal cocktails that anesthetize, paralyze and then stop the recipient’s heart was not enough. The first injection went through his vein and out the other side, dispersing the chemicals into his muscles, forcing a second dose to be given.

    “It don’t work! It don’t work,” yelled a sobbing Joseph Clark in May 2006, as the vein that executioners had worked 22 minutes to find collapsed while the chemicals were being administered.

    A year later, Ohio authorities took two hours to successfully find veins and administer Christopher Newton the lethal injection. The process took so long, he was authorized to take a bathroom break.

    Human error, my ass. Barbaric demons. They’re doing this on purpose.

    BBC Horizon: How To Kill A Human Being (YouTube)

    From 2:53 to 3:53 you can watch the evidence of how it can be done painlessly with nitrogen (pigs used to preference test various gases).

    But the US is going to go ahead and keep making human ‘errors’ because the plantation can’t afford painless, dignified deaths. Trauma is needed to keep slaves in their cauldron of suffering.

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