30 September 2010

We regret to inform you that executions may be delayed

Bad news for American supporters of capital punishment. The pharmaceutical company Hospira reported it has suspended the production of Pentothal because it is unable to obtain enough of the drug's essential ingredients. Pentothal, or sodium thiopental, used as an anaesthetic in hospital operations, is one of the three drugs that make up the cocktail for lethal injections, Americans' favourite form of legal execution. Hospira is the sole producer of the drug.

Executions have already been postponed in Oklahoma and Kentucky, and Arizona and California are expecting delays. Oklahoma has enough sodium thiopental to kill one of the two inmates scheduled to die, but faces the awkward business of which one. Flip a coin, perhaps?

Some capital punishment supporters suspect that Hospira has an ulterior motive -- that it is attempting to avoid its products being used to kill people. Although the company insists the current shortage is due to a problem with supply, it has also stated, "The drug is not indicated for capital punishment, and Hospira does not support its use in this procedure," so maybe it is up to some altruistic mischief. Director of the Death Penalty Information Centre, Richard Dieter, observed, "There will be more of these sorts of problems so long as you try to use a medical method for executions."

All hope is not lost for the executioners, however. Texas, apparently, has ample supplies of Pentothal on hand.

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