Opting Out of Our Degrading Death Penalty

January 22, 2011

The news in today’s New York Times that Hospira, Inc., the only FDA approved manufacturer of the lethal injection anesthetic sodium thiopental, has decided to stop making that drug has thrown the status of U.S. executions into further disarray.  There has been a shortage of the drug for a year, delaying some executions and prompting states to take unusual and often highly secretive measures to find other suppliers.  Now it is clear that the shortage will be permanent.

It is certainly NOT good news that the production of a drug with positive medical uses has been discontinued, but pharmaceuticals (and, for that matter, human beings) are not created to kill people, so using them for that purpose is bound to cause confusion, both moral and legal. 

This ongoing saga, with states scrambling to find drugs for their executions, has only served to illustrate how degrading the whole death penalty enterprise is.  All who participate in it, from the jurors, to the lawyers and judges, to the families of the victims and of the condemned, to the prison guards and wardens, to the medical professionals and drug companies like Hospira, are dragged into a system the sole purpose of which is to kill human beings, a purpose which goes against our most basic principles of human rights and human dignity.

In this case, Hospira has opted out, reiterating in its statement that capital punishment is “a use Hospira has never condoned” for their drug, and lamenting that “our many hospital customers who use the drug for its well-established medical benefits will not be able to obtain the product.”