Ohio Bill Would Shield Source Of Lethal Injection Drugs

Nov 19, 2014
Originally published on November 19, 2014 4:47 pm

Ohio lawmakers are considering a bill that would shield the identity of any pharmacy or drugmaker that provides drugs for executions.

Ohio, like most states, has struggled to obtain the drugs after European manufacturers prohibited their use in putting people to death. Many states have turned to unregulated compounding pharmacies to make replicas. But following several high-profile botched executions, those pharmacies have come under scrutiny.

State Rep. Jim Buchy, one of the bill's primary sponsors, says the legislation will allow more qualified pharmacies and medical professionals to come forward and participate.

"The idea is to give the professionals the security of knowing that the drugs necessary to be put together in compounds to do the most efficient job of carrying out the wishes of the court is done in a humane way," says Buchy, a Republican.

Ohio's executions ground to a halt in January when the state took more than 20 minutes to kill a man who gasped and snorted after being injected with a new two-drug mix.

In addition to keeping the source of drugs used in lethal injections a secret, the bill would shield the identity of any medical professional who takes part. And it would bar European drugmakers from putting limits on how their drugs are used.

Last September, for example, Germany's human rights commissioner wrote a letter to the governor of Missouri and said if the state attempted to use the anesthetic propofol in an execution, the European Commission could consider banning exports to the United States.

Michael Brickner, senior policy director at the ACLU in Ohio, says telling drug manufacturers they can't dictate such terms would very likely violate the Commerce Clause. But he says the greater problem is keeping secret which drugs are used and how they are administered.

"When something isn't working, the answer is never secrecy," he says. "When something isn't working the way it's supposed to, you need more accountability ... more transparency."

Brickner says states can find a way to humanely execute people. They just need to open the process to public oversight.

Buchy says a desire for humane executions is what's behind his bill. But he also says there has been too much emphasis on the experience of those sentenced to die. The victim of the Ohio inmate in the botched execution in January was one of his constituents.

"Frankly, what that man did to the lady that he murdered and raped and tortured," Buchy says, "he perpetrated more cruel and unusual punishment to his victim than the state ever did in a 20-minute execution."

Ohio statewide public defender Tim Young sees it differently.

"I am astonished people would suggest that our justice system would behave the way criminals do," he says. "While it may appeal to a very basic instinct that these are incredibly heinous crimes — I'm not arguing about that — but our justice system and our society has to hold itself out to be better than the people who commit those heinous crimes."

So far, the bill is moving swiftly through Ohio's House and appears likely to pass by January.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ohio lawmakers yesterday held a hearing on a bill involving lethal injection. That bill proposes to shield the identity of any pharmacy or drug maker who provides drugs for executions. Like many states, Ohio has struggled to obtain those drugs. Many states have turned to unregulated compounding pharmacies, but those pharmacies have come under scrutiny after several botched executions. NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.

LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The Ohio House bill, among other things, will keep the source of lethal injection drugs a secret. It will also shield the identity of any medical professional who agrees to participate in an execution. Jim Buchy is one of the bill's primary sponsors. And he says the bill is needed since Ohio's executions ground to a halt last January. That's when the state took 26 minutes to kill a man who gasped and snorted after being injected with a new, two-drug mix.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM BUCHY: The idea is to give the professionals the security of knowing that the drugs necessary to be put together in compounds to do the most efficient job in carrying out the wishes of the court is done in a humane way.

SULLIVAN: Buchy says the secrecy will allow more qualified pharmacies and professionals to come forward and participate.

BUCHY: We need to get it passed by the end of the year because there are executions slated to be conducted in 2015. And if we don't pass the legislation, it just continues to delay the process.

SULLIVAN: For years, European drug manufacturers have prohibited the use of their drugs in executions, cutting off the supply and forcing states to turn to compounding pharmacies to create replicas. Last September, the human rights commissioner for Germany wrote to the governor of Missouri and said if the state attempted to use the common surgery drug propofol in an execution, the European commission would consider banning it entirely from the United States. One of the other things Buchy's bill would do is prohibit European drug manufacturers from dictating such terms. The ACLU's Michael Brickner says that will likely violate the commerce clause, even if the state was able to keep secret the use of the drugs and shield the names of any company or pharmacy participating.

MICHAEL BRICKNER: When you have a problem, when something isn't working, the answer is never secrecy. That - in fact, when something isn't working the way it's supposed to, you need more accountability. You need more transparency.

SULLIVAN: Brickner says states can find a way to humanely execute people. They just need to open the process to public oversight. Buchy says the desire for humane executions is what's behind his bill. But he also says there's been too much emphasis on the experience of those sentenced to die. The victim of the man from the botched 26-minute execution in January was one of his constituents.

BUCHY: Frankly, what that man did to the lady that he murdered and raped and tortured - to me, he perpetrated more cruel and unusual punishment to his victim than the state ever did in a 20-minute execution.

TIM YOUNG: I am astonished people would suggest that our justice system should behave the way that criminals do.

SULLIVAN: Tim Young is the public defender for the state of Ohio. He sees it differently.

YOUNG: While it may appeal to a very base instinct that - these are incredibly heinous crimes. I am not arguing about that. But our justice system and our society has to hold itself out to be better than the people who commit those heinous crimes.

SULLIVAN: So far, at least, the bill is moving swiftly through Ohio's House and appears likely to pass by January. Laura Sullivan, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.