Capital Punishment’s Latest Challenge: Foreign Drugs

Deborah Denno in The Wall Street Journal, November 03, 2010

Media Source

It’s a usual period for capital punishment. Some states continue to encounter a pretty fundamental obstacle: they can’t get their hands on thiopental sodium, one of the key drugs used in lethal injections. (Click here for our recent post on the topic.)

On Wednesday, a lawsuit was filed in London alleging that Tennessee has attempted to obtain a supply of the drug in the UK to carry out the planned January execution of Edmond Zagorski (pictured). The problem: Exporting thiopental sodium to the US violates European trade regulations and human-rights law, the suit claims. Here’s a WSJ article on the now-international conflagration.

“We have looked at a number of different providers of thiopental sodium in the United States, some of which have sources overseas,” said Dorinda Carter, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Death penalty critics contend that it raises constitutional concerns to obtain the drug from overseas. “We need to make sure that a foreign supply of sodium thiopental is of the strength necessary to ensure unconsciousness for purposes of avoiding undue pain and suffering,” said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, rejected a petition last week seeking to delay the Arizona execution of Jeffrey Landrigan on the grounds that the state had obtained thiopental sodium from the UK. “There is no evidence in the record to suggest that the drug obtained from a foreign source is unsafe,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court.