Thursday, January 9, 2014

A moral and legal travesty in Missouri executions

Missouri’s latest arrangement for executing inmates is indefensible.

After nearly causing an international incident with attempts to carry out executions using a foreign-made anesthetic , the Department of Corrections contracted with an out-of-state compounding pharmacy to produce a different death drug.

Two prisoners were executed late last year with pentobarbital, a sedative used by veterinarians to euthanize animals. Corrections officials refused to say where they obtained the drug. But St. Louis Public Radio and an online newspaper, the Beacon, traced its origin to a compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma.

The pharmacy is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or registered in Missouri. Under state law, an unlicensed pharmacy cannot sell drugs in Missouri. But apparently the administration of Gov. Jay Nixon thinks of itself as a customer above the law.

The governor and corrections officials are on thin ice. Neither the FDA nor the Missouri Board of Pharmacy have jurisdiction to oversee the pharmacy or the quality of its project. A faulty drug could violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Missouri leaders have exerted a good deal of energy trying unsuccessfully to find a suitable protocol for executions. But, unlike in some other states, they haven’t gotten around to a serious discussion on ending the death penalty.

It is time for a moratorium, at least. Missouri has seen falsely convicted inmates released from death row. Death sentences are costly and unproductive as a deterrent.

For those reasons and more, public opinion is shifting away from the death penalty. Missouri needs to stop breaking its own laws and consider a wiser form of justice.

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