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October 27, 2010
Lethal Injection: A Case For the FDA?
I had trouble believing this headine today, but it's a real one. A convicted murderer was set to be executed in Arizona, but there's apparently been a shortage of sodium thiopental, which (I have to say) I didn't know was the preferred drug for this use. The Arizona authorities imported some from Great Britain, whereupon the convicted man's lawyers got a stay of execution, on the grounds that this particular material had not been FDA-approved.
Well, that's a new one. The idea that a drug being used to kill someone has to be properly evaluated for safety and efficacy is not one that would have occurred to me, but then, I'm not a lawyer. Thiopental, I should add, is not exactly an experimental drug. It's a short-acting barbituate that's been around forever as an anaesthetic. It has one supplier in the US, but can be sourced, no doubt, from many others around the world. And thus this Arizona case. I notice that many of the news stories refer to use of a "non-approved drug", but that should be more properly stated as a non-approved supplier of a drug that's been around forever, and (moreover) used a great number of times in executions and euthanasia.
This argument held things up, briefly, but the Supreme Court last night tossed that one out 5 to 4, and the prisoner involved (I've no desire to use his name) was executed. Readers from countries without the death penalty may well find this whole situation grotesque - well, you can be sure that many people inside the US do as well. My biggest problem, though, is that the prisoner involved committed his crime in 1989 and is only now paying this price for it.
Update: Here's the Supreme Court order in this case (PDF). The interesting passages:
. . .There is no evidence in the record to suggest that the drug obtained from a foreign source is unsafe. The district court granted the restraining order because it was left to speculate as to the risk of harm. . .But speculation cannot substitute for evidence that the use of the drug is “‘sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering.’” . . .There was no showing that the drug was unlawfully obtained, nor was there an offer of proof to that effect.
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