FDA Slammed For Allowing Illegal Execution Drugs

March 28, 2012

Death chamber in Huntsville, Texas
The death chamber in Huntsville, Texas. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

I’ve written before about how the death penalty degrades everything it touches, and in the words of Thomas Paine,  leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws.  Doctors and other medical professionals complicit in the act of execution violate the Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” Drug companies are unwillingly dragged into the business of killing, rather than healing. And now, a recent court ruling exposes how the the FDA, whose stated mission is to keep us safe from bad food and drugs, has abandoned its mandate in order to facilitate state executions.

On Tuesday, March 27, a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., took the FDA to task for allowing states to illegally import the unapproved drugsodium thiopental for use in executions.  The FDA is supposed to refuse admission of unapproved drugs into the United States.  Judge Richard J. Leon ruled that the FDA had “acted in a manner contrary to the public health.” Leon wrote:

“…the FDA appears to be simply wrapping itself in the flag of law enforcement discretion to justify its authority and masquerade an otherwise seemingly callous indifference to the health consequences of those immediately facing the executioner’s needle.  How utterly disappointing!”

According to the judge’s order, states with sodium thiopental (Nebraska, for example) should return its illegal imports to the FDA.  On the whole, the ruling will have limited impact because most states no longer use thiopental in executions, but it is refreshing to see a government agency held accountable for ignoring the law.  And it’s good to see a judge seeking to reverse the corrosive effects of the death penalty.