The Shadow Economy of Lethal Injection Drug Deals

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The Shadow Economy of Lethal Injection Drug Deals

No government should get to perform lethal experiments with human life. (Photo: flickr / cc / Global Panorama via Wikimedia Commons)

For all we know, the "pharmacy" might be a high school science class.

That's how a federal appeals court judge described Missouri's secretive death penalty system back in the spring.

Shady medical experiments masquerading as legal executions have gone horrifically wrong in four states already this year. During the most recent, Arizona officials shot 15 separate doses of experimental drugs into Mr. Joseph Wood. This bungled execution lasted for nearly two hours, during which Mr. Wood gasped for breath 660 times and then finally suffocated to death.

These botches had some common themes: drugs without a disclosed manufacturer, unknown doses, and unqualified medical supervision.

The government of Missouri knows this. Governor Jay Nixon has the opportunity to make sure that the execution scheduled for 36 hours from now in his state does not suffer from this same irresponsibility. He should issue a stay.

At the very least, to carry out an execution, a state should be able to tell us the name and manufacturer of the lethal injection drugs and the drugs' expiration dates. A state should also be able to provide proof that the drugs are FDA approved. And a state should be able to show the public that executioners are medically qualified to administer the drugs.

Missouri has done none of this. Neither did the four other states where medical experimentation went horribly wrong this year.

What we do know about Missouri's execution system should scare us. In order to dredge up drugs, Missouri gave one of its corrections officers $11,000 in cash and sent him over the border to Oklahoma. The officer returned with the drugs, but he couldn't say whether they were pure or whether they'd been stored or transported properly.

When execution teams are buying drugs with cash, we should question why they've taken to the shadows.

The answer is that the death penalty simply has no place in this country. Most pharmaceutical companies have refused to provide their drugs to be used in executions. Other methods of state-sponsored killing have been deemed too barbaric and archaic. And many doctors won't execute, because it violates their code of ethics to do no harm.

So the whole execution system has been driven underground. States are scrambling to find whatever drugs they can, never mind the fact that they might not work or have been long expired. Missouri has even taken to paying execution teams in cash, under the table – one more part of the dirty business of lethal injection.

Mainstream America wants this barbaric practice off the books. And certainly these botched methods of carrying out the death penalty are far from constitutional. States should heed this, instead of hiding in a cash economy, carrying out illegal medical experimentation on human beings.

Sign our petition calling for a nationwide suspension of executions. No government should experiment with human life.

Tanya Greene

Tanya Greene is an ACLU staff attorney focusing on criminal justice issues, including the death penalty, indigent defense, solitary confinement and juvenile justice. Greene worked as a capital defense practitioner for almost 15 years prior to joining the ACLU.

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