The reason why drug companies don't want to get involved with death penalty

If states are unable to ensure it's carried out in a constitutional way, can the death penalty ever be constitutional?

Share

Three prisoners were executed in the space of 24 hours in the US this week. The grim spectacle came after a seven week hiatus prompted by the horribly botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in April.

Clayton Lockett’s execution took nearly two hours. According to the execution team’s official log of the incident, they spent over 45 minutes trying to insert the needle, repeatedly puncturing his arms, legs and neck; eventually, they ‘went to the groin’.

Having inserted the needle, they began to administer the lethal cocktail. But something went wrong. After 94 minutes, Clayton Lockett’s heart was still beating. There were no drugs left. Eventually, the Director called off the execution. Clayton was left to die of a heart attack behind the curtain.

The torturous execution of Clayton Lockett has garnered criticism from around the world, and rightly so. But it was not the first botched lethal injection the US had seen, and if this week is anything to go by, it certainly won’t be the last.

The three executions which were rushed through in Florida, Missouri and Georgia this week were shrouded in secrecy. Like in Oklahoma, all three states refused to disclose any information on either the source or quality of the drugs used in this week’s executions.

Why? The states’ argument is that they are "protecting" the identity of the manufacturer or maker of the drugs used in the execution; that if their identities were to be revealed, they would no longer want to provide execution drugs to the prisons.

The reality, of course, is that the drug-makers have never wanted to see medicines which they developed to save the lives of patients used to end the lives of prisoners in potentially torturous executions.

When the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck put controls in place to prevent prisons from purchasing pentobarbital for use in executions, the Ohio Department of Corrections tried to bypass the controls by ordering drugs through the Ohio Department of Mental Health. One official wrote to another: “When you call them to see if they will sell to us make sure you say we are the Department of Mental Health do not mention anything about corrections in the phone call or what we use the drug for.”

When Texas wanted to buy drugs from a compounding pharmacy in New York, they didn’t disclose the purpose of the purchase; when the pharmacist was alerted to the fact that the drugs were to be used to kill prisoners, he “cancelled the order before it had been filled.”

I’ve worked with scores of manufacturers and pharmacists over the years. None of them want to provide drugs for executions. They are not asking for secrecy, for their identities to be hidden; they are asking simply for their repeated calls for US prisons not to use their drugs to kill prisoners to be heeded.

Clayton Lockett’s execution shocked the world. And, like Dennis McGuire’s botched execution before it, went some way to debunking the myth of the ‘humane’ lethal injection. For a moment, the medical veil was lifted, and we were allowed to glimpse the horror of what goes on behind the curtain of the execution chamber.

Even state officials have been forced to acknowledge that these executions didn’t go to plan. But instead of shining a light onto the cracked and creaking machinery of death responsible for these botched executions, they are drawing an even heavier curtain of secrecy across the chamber, all the while rushing more prisoners to the gallows.

In the seminal US Supreme Court case of Baze v Rees, Justice Roberts wrote that since the death penalty is constitutional, there must be a way to carry it out. Recent events invite us to view this statement differently: if states cannot carry it out in a constitutional way, can the death penalty be constitutional?

Read more: Lawyer's last-minute scramble to halt execution

Maya Foa works at legal charity Reprieve on lethal injection issues. She consults with pharmaceutical companies who wish to put controls in place to ensure their drugs are not sold for use in executions; she also works with the European Commission and other governments on export controls to protect medicines from abuse in lethal injections.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders joins the Latitude 2014 line-up  

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde - please don't tell other victims it was theirs

Holly Baxter
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory