By: Jocelyn Schwalm
Capital punishment has always had fiercely opposing opinions, but what happens when the companies supplying these powerful drugs decide they want out? Drug companies all around the world have decided it is time to take a stance on the death penalty, and as their ethical standards rise, it seems to be raising quite an issue with correctional service agencies.
One of the main drugs used in the 3-part cocktail is becoming more and more scarce. Sodium Thiopental is a general anesthetic used to immediately strike death row inmates into an unconscious state. The standard protocol for the process involved in the death penalty is administering 3 drugs—the first is an anesthetic drug, the second paralyzes the body and stops the breathing, and the third stops the heart. Sodium Thiopental is necessary for what is considered a humane death. Problems begin to arise when there is little to no access to these drugs, and other, less validated drugs start to become introduced.
There have been cases where replacement drugs, such as a sedative and anesthetics have been combined for an execution to take place, resulting in inhumane suffering of the person convicted. Even more controversial options have been tested, such as using Pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals. The problem is only growing as the drugs that are replacing the Sodium Thiopental are coming from less legitimized sources.
One reason for the shortage is the European Union’s ban on the exportation of these necessary drugs for the use of lethal injection. They have put out a statement saying that they “hold a strong and principled position against the death penalty.” Their stance brings into question the aspect of human rights and leaves North America looking like they are stuck in the past as they continue to look for various ways to proceed with lethal injection.
The European Union’s opposing moral standpoint offers a legitimate perspective. The rampant drug shortage is becoming a problem due to these companies’ status on ethics. These well-known drug companies want to be associated with the aspect of healing as opposed to the process of killing convicts. There have been over 20 pharmaceutical companies that have pulled out already, including one of the largest conglomerates, Pfizer. With this ethical dilemma, correctional institutions have been cornered into turning to less validated sources for obtaining the necessary pharmaceuticals.
The use of less regulated drugs in place of the trusted pharmaceutical companies has resulted in undue suffering for death row inmates. There are lots of delays happening within the correctional institutions right now for those that can’t seem to obtain any drugs at all. A lot of correctional facilities have even taken to hiding where they are receiving their drugs from, bringing forth even further controversy, such as using firing squads in Utah, while in Oklahoma the use of nitrogen gas is now being looked into. With more and more controversy surrounding lethal injection, it seems that the notion as a whole should be reconsidered and if these drug companies are exercising their right to be uninvolved, maybe it’s time the whole process should come to a substantial halt.