Capital punishment in Ohio has been a hot topic for debate in recent months, particularly in regards to the methods of execution. Since 1999, Ohio has executed 53 men, the most recent being the controversial death of Dennis McGuire on January 14, 2014.
McGuire, 53, received capital punishment for raping and stabbing to death a pregnant Joy Stewart in 1989. McGuire was given a never-before-used in Ohio lethal two-drug combination of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller, which reportedly caused his death to be drawn out for more than 20 minutes. This raised the question of whether Ohio had violated his Eighth Amendment rights related to cruel and unusual punishment. Ohio prison officials reviewed McGuire’s case and deemed it humane, although the state is no longer using this two-drug concoction.
Shortly after this incident, Ohio Gov. John Kasich postponed the executions of other scheduled executions until January of 2016, while the state tries to find new lethal drugs. In 2001, the state eliminated the option of execution by electric chair, rendering lethal injection the only viable option. In the past, Ohio used single lethal doses of thiopental sodium or pentobarbital for executions, but supplies of both dried up because of drug companies’ unwillingness to provide drugs for capital punishment purposes. As a result, Kasich signed a law offering “anonymity to compounding pharmacies that agree to manufacture the drugs used in state executions, as well as to others involved in carrying out executions,” says the Washington Post. The bill, passed in Dec. 2014, also had the end result of shielding the identity and public records pertaining to anyone involved.
This new legislation is clearly an overstepping of the government. The public, who are the taxpayers of the lethal drugs in question as the New York Times editorial board points out, deserve to know the details of the executions they are inadvertently supporting. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the experimentation with deadly substances require public awareness and ought to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, if only to prevent more sinister or unlawful intentions.
Pharmaceutical companies providing execution drugs should stand by them. If they allow death penalty opponents to scare them away, they could be causing executioners to use untested, less reliable and less humane methods, such as in the case with McGuire.
Take pentobarbital, for example. This is the same substance used by veterinarians to euthanize your beloved pets. It is essentially a lethal overdose of an anesthetic, given intravenously, rendering your pet unconscious within 15-20 seconds and dead within one to two minutes. It is considered an accepted, humane form of animal euthanasia. When we consider its use to end our pets’ suffering, we don’t question it.
Pentobarbital has also been used in 14 states for executions, five more plan to use the drug, and Colorado includes pentobarbital as a back-up for lethal injections. However, the European Union has banned the exportation of pentobarbital, along with thiopental sodium, to the U.S. for capital punishment purposes. The consequent shortages forced Ohio to abandon those and consider drugs from non-FDA regulated compounding companies. That change, in turn, inspired the so called “secret executions” bill to protect the identity of the drug suppliers.
This new law would not have been necessary if companies felt more open to having their verified humane drugs used for capital punishment, such as the otherwise accepted pentobarbital. Those opposed to the death penalty fighting against the use of these drugs are inadvertently causing states to consider less palatable, archaic methods of execution such as those already adopted in other states: the electric chair in Tennessee, the firing squad in Utah and nitrogen gas in Oklahoma. The drugs provided by these compounding companies also run the risk of contamination, which heightens their likelihood of inducing pain. While it is true that “veterinary practice for animals is not an appropriate guide for humane practices for humans,” as stated in the Supreme Court case of Baze et al. v. Reed, Ohio can take their regulated and humane practices toward our cherished animals into consideration. As long as the death penalty is in effect, those opposed might as well openly allow FDA approved companies to offer the most humane drugs without stigma (should they be willing). After all, you only want the best for those who have committed the worse of the worst, right?