Sunday, July 27, 2014

Botched executions raise new questions

A botched execution in Arizona last week has sent many states scrambling to make sure their executions don't follow a similar grim scenario. 

It took Joseph Wood one hour and 57 minutes to die. He was administered a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone; it was the first time Arizona had used this combination of drugs to execute an inmate.  

Lethal injection has been the method of choice in the United States since 1976, and has be largely deemed the most humane way of executing prisoners without violating the Eighth Amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment.  

Wood's execution in Arizona, in addition to the botched execution of Michael Lee Wilson in Oklahoma and Dennis McGuire in Ohio, has drawn attention to the method by which we execute are criminals.  

States with the death penalty previously obtained their execution drugs from Europe. The most commonly used drug is pentobarbital, which causes people to become unconscious to the point of death. This drug is often the primary ingredient, and is often mixed with pancuronium bromide, a paralytic, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. However, in recent years European companies have refused to supply the United States with drugs for executions. States have instead had to turn to compounding pharmacies to get their drugs. 

In March of this year, Mississippi announced it would begin to receive its pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy. Compounding pharmacies traditionally alter medications for specific users. They do not have to go through the same approval process that larger manufactures and traditional pharmacies do.  

"The MDOC uses pentobarbital, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride in executions," said Grace Fisher, the communications director for the Department of Corrections.  

Mississippi has 50 inmates on death row. They will be the first in the state's history to be executed with drugs bought from compounding pharmacies.  

As of today, none of the 50 inmates on death row has a execution date set.  

There were six executions at Parchman in 2012. Two scheduled executions in 2013 were stayed, including that of Willie Manning of Starkville, whose execution was called off just hours before it was scheduled on May 6, 2013. Neither of the stays were attributed to the state's lethal injection methods.

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