Bioethics Blogs

After the Supreme Court Decision on Lethal Injection Drug, More Questions

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that Oklahoma’s substitution of midazolam for sodium thiopental as a sedative in lethal injections does not violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, an important question is whether states will even be able to obtain drugs used in capital punishment. Increasing numbers of professional associations that are essential for providing and compounding lethal injection drugs are urging their members not to do so.

The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) recently issued a statement  discouraging pharmacists from participating in capital punishment. The APhA now joins the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, and American Board of Anesthesiology in defining capital punishment as inimical to ethical practice for health care professionals. Following on the heels of the APhA resolution, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists (IACP) has also declared that active participation of their members in the administration of the death penalty is unethical.

These changes could not come at a better moment. The capital punishment landscape in the United States is increasingly baroque. Utah recently reinstated the firing squad for execution when lethal injection compounds are unavailable. Oklahoma has approved capital punishment by nitrogen gas asphyxiation as its second line method of execution, after lethal injection, and before electrocution and the firing squad. Oklahoma was, of course, the scene of the botched 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett, who died of a heart attack an hour and a half after the start of his execution. Lockett reportedly sat up from the execution gurney to declare the “the drugs aren’t working.”

States traditionally sourced compounds for lethal injection directly from manufacturers.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.