The Free Press, Mankato, MN


May 29, 2014

Our View: Taking executions backward

Why It Matters: With the drug cocktails employed in executions increasingly difficult to come by, some states are preparing to revert to older methods of killing prisoners.

The political journey of capital punishment in America is taking a turn to the past. We’d do better to halt the journey.

The current specific battleground is over the method of execution, specifically the lethal injection process that has become the norm in America’s death chambers. Drug makers, particularly from anti-death-penalty Europe, are increasingly reluctant to sell the products for such purposes.

This has led some states to change to a single-drug method; some have also switched to compounding pharmacies as sources for the fatal doses. Compounding pharmacies are relatively unregulated, and the quality of their products thus less certain.

Another complication for executing states: The official position of virtually all medical associations (pharmacy excluded) is that medical practitioners should not be involved in executions.

And thus we have the botched execution in Oklahoma late last month: Drugs from an anonymous compounding pharmacy fed into a faulty intravenous line that was placed by a EMT.

Bottom line: States are finding it increasingly difficult to execute their lethal-execution executions.

The latest wave of responses from death penalty states is to revert, or at least threaten to revert, to killing methods that had been discarded as overly brutal. Tennessee last week officially made electrocution an option once more. Wyoming and Utah are poised to bring back firing squads.

These moves may be posturing of a sort: Quit challenging lethal injection, or we’ll switch to something you find even more abhorrent.

Both sides of the capital punishment debate are well dug in. Death-penalty states won’t abandon the practice simply because their preferred execution method is squeezed; it’s equally unlikely that opponents of executions will drop their objections lest more barbaric methods be employed.

We’re pleased Minnesota doesn’t have the death penalty. We’d be even more pleased if the states that do would yield to the outside pressures that are making lethal injection increasingly less practical.

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