Saturday, July 2, 2011

Poisoned Tylenol, Anyone?

Fortunately, Ohio has enough pentobarbital left for the murder of Kenneth Smith on July 19.
But after that?
This business of killing people with the aid of the pharmaceutical industry is getting tricky.
I mean, there are all those problems with the three-drug sequence (see here, for instance).  Then, at least in Ohio, there's the continuing issue of even being able to insert the needles for the IV lines (see here).
So we went to one drug, thiopental sodium.  Except Hospira stopped making thiopental.  And then Dream Pharma's operation exporting thiopental (operated out of the the back of the Elgone Driving Academy in London) hit a snag when DOJ started confiscating the smuggled drugs.  So the states, those like Ohio now using a single drug and those still killing with a sequence of three, began switching from thiopental to pentobarbital (see here, for instance).  But now Lundebek, the Danish company that makes pentobarbital, has figured out what it thinks is a way to ensure that no more of it will end up in the hands of the executioners.
Here's the story, from WLWT in Cincinnati.
Lundbeck Inc. chief executive Ulf Wiinberg said Friday that his company is demanding that U.S. distributors and states not let pentobarbital -- a sedative with a number of uses -- be used as a lethal injection drug.
"Lundbeck will have to approve each order and everyone buying the product must sign a paper stating they will not sell it on to prisons," Winberg said. "We are confident that our new distribution program will play a substantial role in restricting prisons' access."
So what's a state to do?
Ohio prisons spokesman Carlo LoParo said that the state is struggling to find a new lethal injection drug.
But since we've got enough to kill Smith later this month we've actually got until mid-August (Brett Hartman, August 16) to track down some new drug for committing murder.
As I've written many times, the problem (if that's the right word) is that we insist on a killing that appears humane and inoffensive.  We want to kill without gore, without mess, and without pain.  We want it done with a G rating.
The goal is vengeance (we call it "retribution," but that's just more syllables for the same thing) without equivalence. 
There are, of course, ways to kill that will be painless. But each seems to carry baggage we want to avoid.
  • Attaching sticks of dynamite to the body and then lighting them?  There's a gruesomeness (and a suggestion of terrorism) to that at odds with the desire to sanitize the process.  
  • Gunshot to the back of the head?  China's abandoning it as a method.  And it sounds just a bit too much like a mobster execution.  Besides, there's all that spattered brain and bone and blood.
  • Overdose with drugs of abuse like heroin or even marijuana?  Too kind.  And the DEA would object.  Besides, we've insisted for so long that they have no proper use it'd be hard to change gears.
  • Inhale carbon monoxide through a face mask?  Too much like what Kevorkian designed.
Oh, I don't doubt that they'll find another drug.  There are lots of pharmaceutical companies and lots of drugs.  They'll even turn one up, eventually, that won't find it offensive to use a drug designed to heal in order to kill.
In the meantime, we can be comforted that Kenneth Smith's murder can occur without disruption.
You know, it gets tiring writing the same thing over and over again.  The drugs aren't the problem.  The problem is the death penalty.  It's murder, but we can't admit that because then we'd have to admit that it's wrong.
And so we have to hide it.
We kill indoors.  With a few witnesses, but away from the cameras, away from the glare.  And then we mask the murder with the veneer of a medical procedure.  So it looks nice.  So we can pretend it's not what we're doing.
We won't admit it.  We can't admit it.
Still, it keeps getting tougher to hide from the truth.


  1. Two words: Firing squad. I've already written about this and discussed it at length, but to re-cap it's quick, painless, the target never survives and there has never been a shortage of volunteers.

  2. But we've rejected it. Utah, the last state to keep it, has now abandoned it completely. Too much noise or blood or old-westy or something.

  3. Bring back hanging. I know you guys believe the death penalty to be cruel and unusual, but the guys who WROTE the 8th ammendment used hanging in their day.

  4. Another approach that got (and still gets) screwed up and is too ugly for the tenderness we (that's the institutional we) require. Saddam, you'll recall, was virtually decapitated. That's gross beyond what we're willing to accept. At the other end of fuck ups, people slowly strangle, taking up to a half hour of gruesomeness. Won't happen.

    By the way, those same guys did all sorts of things we won't accept today. Forget the Constitution, this is about what the folks in power can stomach - and what they think the voters can.

  5. We kill indoors. With a few witnesses, but away from the cameras, away from the glare. And then we mask the murder with the veneer of a medical procedure. So it looks nice. So we can pretend it's not what we're doing.....

    That's exactly what they do, yes. It makes me think of what the nazi's's not what we're doing...we didn't know....

  6. If you must do it, a gas chamber with carbon dioxide is completely reliable, painless, safe for the operators and there are no nasty side effects. It is rather slow but considering the crap that is happening now, not worse than many lethal injections. And dry ice is highly available and needs no medical licenses.

    However the whole DP 'system' is too arbitrary and perverse to continue with. The UK hanged an innocent man, so did Canada and it is delusional to believe the US hasn't done more of the same since Thomas and Meeks Griffin were electrocuted in 1915. The urge to cover up mistakes is just higher here.