U.S. states that execute their citizens have had a tough time recently: International pharmaceutical companies have refused to supply the lethal chemicals needed to carry out executions, so some states have taken to mixing their own experimental cocktails. This has lead to some grisly results. For instance, in 2014, a botched execution procedure in Arizona left Joseph Rudolph gasping and snorting for two hours as he slowly died, thanks to an ineffective mix of Midazolam (a sedative), and hydromorphone (a narcotic).
Arizona has decided to take steps to avoid this nightmare in future. Has it abolished the death penalty? No. Instead, it has revised its procedure policies to permit death-row inmates to supply their own pentobarbital or sodium pentothal, in order to ensure an efficient death.
If, according to the execution procedure manual, “the inmate’s counsel or other third parties acting on behalf of the inmate’s counsel are able to obtain [from an approved source] the chemical pentobarbital [or sodium pentothal] in sufficient quantity and quality,” then it can be used for the scheduled execution. Luckily, the manual also provides tables detailing the amount of each drug needed to do the deed.
But Arizona might be finding itself on the wrong side of the law. Speaking on CBC Radio’s As It Happens show, Arizona assistant federal public defender Dale Baich said that he was “flabbergasted” at the news. Baich said that it is both unethical and illegal: A lawyer, Baich added, has a duty to protect their client, not to participate in the client’s execution. “If a state wants to have the death penalty, it has the duty to figure out how to do it constitutionally,” said Baich. “The state cannot pass its obligation on to the condemned prisoner or the condemned prisoner’s lawyer.”
Moral issues aside, Baich pointed out that the whole policy is logistically unsound. “It’s illegal and impossible for me as a lawyer to go out and purchase drugs, and then turn those drugs over to the Department of Corrections to be used for an execution,” he said.
State-sanctioned execution is already primitive enough, but when the state doesn’t even have the means or the expertise to carry out that execution properly, the answer isn’t to ask the subject to supply the means of their own death. The answer is to question if the death penalty has a future in a country that claims to be civilized.