The primary method used by state and federal correctional facilities when executing criminals sentenced to death is lethal injection. Lethal injection gained popularity because it was thought to be the most humane and painless method of putting a criminal to death. During this process, the prisoner is injected with a lethal does of the lethal injection drug(s). States in the past have used single drugs, or cocktails of two or three drugs to make the lethal concoction.These drugs normally act to paralyze the prisoner, put the prisoner to sleep and then stop their heart.
Activists against the death penalty were already pressuring pharmaceutical companies to place more restrictions on supplying the drugs used for lethal injections.This was only maximized when news of many botched lethal injection executions, namely in Oklahoma and Ohio, surfaced. Pharmaceutical companies both in America and abroad are now refusing to supply the lethal drugs to state and federal correctional facilities because they no longer wish to take part in the executions and fear backlash from the activists. Because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to provide the drugs, states are running out of the drugs they need to enforce the death penalty. This is causing some states to use older, alternative methods such as the electric chair, firing squads, and nitrogen gas.
Attorney General, and longer term opponent of the death penalty, Eric Holder, is suggesting all states hold off executions until the Supreme Court decided Glossip v. Gross, which it will hear on April 29, 2015. This case is a challenge to Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedure, and particularly the use of the drug midazolam that was used in 3 botched executions in the state in 2014. The issues presented before the court include “(1) Whether it is constitutionally permissible for a state to carry out an execution using a three-drug protocol where (a) there is a well-established scientific consensus that the first drug has no pain relieving properties and cannot reliably produce deep, coma-like unconsciousness, and (b) it is undisputed that there is a substantial, constitutionally unacceptable risk of pain and suffering from the administration of the second and third drugs when a prisoner is conscious; (2) whether the plurality stay standard of Baze v. Rees applies when states are not using a protocol substantially similar to the one that this Court considered in Baze; and (3) whether a prisoner must establish the availability of an alternative drug formula even if the state’s lethal-injection protocol, as properly administered, will violate the Eighth Amendment.”
This case will likely be decided by June, but until then, states like Texas, Tennessee, Utah, and even Oklahoma are actively looking for other methods to get the job done.