group urges states to use only legal drugs for executions
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[May 08, 2014]
By Reuters Staff
— U.S. states executing
prisoners should stick to using legally obtained drugs approved by
federal health regulators, despite shortages that have left
officials scrambling, a legal rights advocacy group urged in
recommendations released on Wednesday.
The Constitution Project said in a report that drugs
used in executions should have U.S. Food and Drug Administration
approval, and should be checked to ensure they are effective and
have not expired.
Capital punishment is a possible sentence in 32 of the 50 U.S.
states, and many states are grappling with a shortage of drugs once
used for executions. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and governments in
Europe, where many of the companies are headquartered, object to use
of the products in executions.
The report said most states use a combination of three drugs for
lethal injections: sodium thiopental as an anesthetic, pancuronium
bromide as a muscle relaxer and potassium chloride to stop the
"Although many states require the use of sodium thiopental in their
lethal injection procedures, the shortage of the drug for executions
has caused states to scramble to find alternative supplies or to
begin using a different drug as a replacement," the group wrote.
Last week, a botched execution in Oklahoma prompted President Barack
Obama to call for a federal investigation. State officials cited
problems with the inmate's veins. The situation brought renewed
scrutiny of execution procedures, which vary state by state.
In the wake of drug shortages, some states have turned to new lethal
"cocktails" as an alternative to hard-to-obtain, FDA-approved drugs.
Those face legal challenges.
The wide-ranging report by the Constitution Project also urged
states to ensure their facilities are set up correctly and that
properly-trained medical personnel deliver the injections.
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The group calls for 39 changes to the capital punishment system
to ensure constitutional rights are protected.
For example, it seeks new standards for obtaining and reviewing
forensic evidence and calls on Congress to establish a federal
system to accredit forensic laboratories.
It recommended other safeguards such as preservation and review of
evidence after conviction to help prevent executions of innocent
people. It also called for major reforms in several states including
Texas, Alabama, California and Pennsylvania.
"While some jurisdictions have made progress toward implementation
of best practices, others persist with policies that appear harder
to justify in light of changing knowledge and standards," it said in
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