New Better Execution Method Closer to Adoption

Press Release ( - WASHINGTON - Feb 18, 2017 - Arizona has taken a step toward an execution protocol which avoids all of the complications and problems with lethal injections – including the scarcity resulting from public pressure on drug companies – and which would permit condemned prisoners to have the same “death with dignity” already granted the elderly in six states, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

        Arizona is a natural state to take the next step since it has not been able to execute any of its condemned murderers since 2004 as the result of a “botched” execution involving lethal injections.

        Banzhaf, noting the growing number of “botched” lethal-injection executions, and the scarcity – even before a major judicial ruling – of injectable execution drugs, first proposed using proven quick-acting barbiturate pills, such as those used for “death with dignity,” for executions in 2009.

        Arizona has now approved the use of barbiturates, and permits the prisoner – through his legal counsel – to provide the drugs for his own execution, which are very difficult to obtain.  However, the new execution protocol still requires that the drugs be injected, rather than taken in the form of pills.

        The next logical step would be for a prisoner’s counsel to be permitted to provide barbiturate drugs for the execution in the form of pills rather than injectable liquids, suggests Banzhaf.

        In six states – California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington – physicians are permitted to prescribe pills so that terminal patients can have death with dignity, and the pills for this purpose are readily available. In Oregon, at least 990 patients have used these drugs since the law took effect in 1997. In Washington state, at least 915 have died under terms of the law enacted in 2009.

        Banzhaf argues that if the state can legally authorize the use of barbiturate pills so that residents can have death with dignity, it should be able to authorize the use of exactly the same pills if prisoners wish to avoid the many risks involved with injectable drugs, or other methods now in use in several states, including the electric chair, firing squad, gas chamber, and even asphyxiation.

        “Providing a condemned man with barbiturate pills to cause a quick and painless death – as in death with dignity jurisdictions – is well tested, established, and accepted, does not require any trained medical personnel, and could avoid the many medical problems with injections, as well as restrictions on injectable drugs imposed by many manufacturers because of ethical and moral concerns,” suggests Banzhaf.

        Using quick, easy, and painless barbiturate pills for executions may even be required by the Constitution, and might indeed be necessary to stem challenges arising from a Supreme Court decision.

        In declaring that a successful death penalty challenge would have to show that the risk of severe pain is “substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives,” the Court seems to open the door to new challenges to all lethal injections, based upon arguments that using barbiturate pills  – readily available, and long used successfully to cause death with dignity in jurisdictions which permit it – are exactly the known and available alternative such a challenge would require, Banzhaf suggests.

Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418  @profbanzhaf

Source : Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf

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CATEGORIES : Government
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