This death was a travesty.
Clayton Lockett struggled for 43 minutes after the midazolam was administered. Despite being declared officially unconscious, he fought against his straps and attempted to speak. He ultimately died of a heart attack.
We can only hope that others don’t have to suffer like him.
Fortunately, capital punishment may finally be ending in the U.S.
Protesting the death penalty has a long history in the U.S. The push to abolish it started in earnest in the 19th century, with Michigan outlawing the death sentence (except for treason) in 1846. More recently, even the hard-on-crime GOP is seeing the need for serious criminal justice reform, although they haven’t quite made it to reforming capital punishment. Despite the long history of objections, judicial murder is still legal in 32 states.
Abolishing the death penalty always faces a problem of political will; politicians don’t want to be associated with it. No politician wants to be “soft on crime” because they know the cautionary tale of Michael Dukakis. As governor of Massachusetts, he instituted weekend furloughs for prisoners, one of whom, Willie Horton, committed a double-kidnapping and rape on his weekend furlough. His opponent, George H. W. Bush, used this to run one of the most successful attack ads of all time.
So we can’t expect politicians to stop capital punishment.
Fortunately, the refusal of individuals to participate in something they find immoral can still have great power. There’s been a great behind-the-scenes drama as pharmacists, doctors and drug companies have taken up the protest against killing.
For years doctors and pharmacists have launched a sustained campaign to discourage pharmaceutical companies from producing the drugs used for execution by injection. In this letter from January 2012, doctors called on Hospira to stop producing thiopental. The doctors even stated that they successfully petitioned Lundbeck, another company, to do so and then they purchased stock in the company. In 2011, Novartis also forbid its import into the U.S. for executions.
Hospira did recently decided to stop producing the drug. The company recently opened a facility in Italy, and Italian law states that Hospira would be liable for any deaths caused by thiopental (since execution is medical malpractice).
With major pharmaceutical companies no longer producing the drug, states are facing a growing shortage. For now, they are turning to compounding pharmacists. However, while the states promise secrecy, that doesn’t always happen. This led to a situation in Texas where a Houston pharmacist was ‘outed’ for providing pentobarbital. Facing extreme public censure, the pharmacist announced he would not longer provide the drug and in fact demanded back the drugs he had already supplied
Slowly, steadily, moral objectors are drying up the supply of the drug. Soon, states may find that the supply is completely gone, and politicians will have a face-saving way to formally end it.
This story also reminds us that legislative action is not the only way. Be creative. Find the human links in the supply chain and force them to own their decisions. The individual sense of morality is powerful. Use it.