Bioethics Blogs

A Bioethics View of Executions in Arkansas

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

This week the state of Arkansas had planned to execute 8 death-row inmates in 4, back-to-back killings using lethal injection over 10 days. The last execution in Arkansas was 12 years ago, so why the sudden rush? As part of the three-drug cocktail used by this state, their supply of midazolam—an anesthetic—is about to expire. If they do not use the drug by the expiration date, then they can’t use it and the company that makes the drug will not sell it to the state for this purpose.

Arkansas had planned to use a combination of 3 drugs in the execution, midazolam (an anesthetic), vecuronium bromide (a paralytic), potassium chloride (to stop the heart). This cocktail would be used to kill the 8 men.

I say “had planned” because last week, two of the prisoners had judges issue stays on their executions. This move is not unusual as there is often a flurry of court appeals and filings in the time before an execution. What is unusual is that over the weekend, another judge placed a stay on all executions on the request of drug companies and distributors—Pfizer, Fresenius, West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, and McKesson—who do not want their drugs to be used in an execution. McKesson’s concern is that when they learned the reason the state bought the vecuronium bromide, that they refunded the cost and asked for the drug to be returned. Drug manufacturers and distributors have come out against their products being used to kill prisoners. The association is unlikely to be good for sales or brand reputation.

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.