"Can Europe End the Death Penalty in America?" is by Matt Ford at the Atlantic.
Lethal injection is by far the predominant method of execution in the United States. Before the drug shortage, virtually every lethal-injection protocol used the same three-drug method. A first drug, sodium thiopental, anesthetized the prisoner. Then a second drug, pancuronium bromide, paralyzed the inmate and halted his or her breathing. Finally, an injection of potassium chloride stopped the heart. Jay Chapman, an Oklahoma medical examiner with little pharmacology experience, first proposed the three-drug protocol in 1977. Asked about his qualifications by a New York Times reporter 30 years later, Chapman described himself as “an expert in matters after death but not in getting people that way.”
Texas became the first state to use lethal injection when it executed Charles Brooks, Jr. on December 7, 1982. Since then, U.S. states have executed over 1,000 death-row inmates by lethal injection. By the time the three-drug cocktail's constitutionality came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 in Baze v. Rees, lethal injection had become the preferred method of execution for 36 states and the federal government. Thirty of those states used Chapman’s method. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the three-drug protocol in a 7-2 decision.
The European Union, for its part, makes no secret of its death-penalty stance. EU guidelines call for its “universal abolition” and declare that doing so would “[contribute] to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights.” EU diplomats and leaders frequently petition U.S. governors and state parole boards to halt forthcoming executions. Sometimes, the supranational organization even works in more subtle ways: EU agencies contributed over $4.8 million in donations to U.S. anti-death-penalty organizations between 2009 and 2013.
NBC News posts, "Death by Lethal Injection Faces New Hurdles," by Tracy Connor.
Until about 2010, most death-penalty states used a three-drug cocktail that was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court: the anesthetic sodium thiopental, the paralytic pancuronium bromide, and heart-stopping potassium chloride to stop the heart, causing death.
In 2011, Hospira, the sole U.S. producer of sodium thiopental, stopped making the drug, and the European manufacturer balked at exporting it to the U.S. if it were to be used in executions.
Manufacturers of substitute drugs like pentobarbital have also refused to supply it for executions, forcing states to turn to compounders, who mix specialty drugs from their basic components.
Defense lawyers argue that's illegal, claiming the lack of oversight prevents jailers from guaranteeing an execution won't be agonizing enough to violate the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
They have attacked states' attempts to keep the names of the pharmacies secret — Georgia's highest court is set to decide soon whether it's legal — and it's easy to see why.
"Lethal Injection Drug Shortage Becomes More Acute," is by Jim Salter of Associated Press. It's via HuffPost.
The nation's shortage of execution drugs is becoming increasingly acute as more pharmacies conclude that supplying the lethal chemicals is not worth the bad publicity and the legal and ethical risks.
The scarcity of drugs for lethal injections has forced states to scramble for substitutes. And experts say that whatever alternatives are found will almost certainly face costly court challenges made more complicated by laws that cloak the process in secrecy.
Lethal injection has faced increasing scrutiny over the past decade. Major drug makers, many of them based in Europe with longtime opposition to the death penalty, have stopped selling to prisons and corrections departments. The source of the drugs is moving to the forefront of the death penalty debate.
Compounding pharmacies — which custom-mix prescription drugs for doctors and patients — seemed like the answer. They are generally overseen by state boards, not the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, although a law adopted last year allows larger compounding pharmacies to register with the FDA and submit to federal inspections.
But now, some compounding pharmacies are starting to back away, too.
Experts say they're not surprised, given the limited profit in selling execution drugs, ethical concerns in the medical profession, potential legal costs and unwanted publicity.
"This is not a good business model for compounding pharmacies, to be making drugs for executions, particularly with all the secret ways they're doing it," Fordam Law School professor Deborah Denno said.
Earlier coverage of international pressures and restrictions by pharmaceutical makers, at the link.