The ethical exploration of society’s ultimate sanction has been going on for decades. But it’s been complicated more recently with European pharmaceutical companies refusing to sell key lethal injection drugs to US death penalty states, on ethical concerns about capital punishment. Most other countries that still have the death penalty either hang or shoot their condemned, with only six countries, including the US, relying on lethal injections. (Three countries still behead.) One hundred forty countries ban the death penalty. But to some elected state officials, drug shortages and legal challenges have sparked a renewed focus on what is a humane execution.The recent brouhaha over lethal injection was spurred when a new toxic cocktail did not work as intended as Clayton Lockett cursed and thrashed for a long while in Oklahoma before falling silent in a botched execution. The incident prompted much discussion, and I was pointed in the direction of an earlier Listverse feature detailing horrifically botched executions. These things tend to further exasperate Europeans from all ends of the political spectrum convinced of the barbarity of American practices. Talk about the road to hell being paved with good intentions, however, as the Yanks are going back to firing squads over the unavailability of EU-sourced chems:
For decades, Europe has done all it could to bring its anti-death penalty stance to the United States. We've seen international covenants and conventions, refusals to expedite in capital cases, good old-fashioned diplomacy, even EU briefs to the US supreme court. Nothing has worked. Until now. Over the last several years, Europe has found a way to export its rejection of capital punishment ... by refusing to export lethal injection drugs to the United States.As a God-fearing Catholic, I generally discourage the use of the death penalty. However, you may be surprised that this occasional America-basher will not automatically condemn this Stateside practice as an abomination (or compare it to apartheid-era South Africa). From a rational choice standpoint, keeping folks in jail isn't cheap, even more so those on death row. Searching the Internet, you will get an astonishing range of figures on how much it costs to jail "regular" inmates and their death row peers. What they share is being humongous to astronomical.
In the private sector, European pharmaceutical companies caught wind of the increasing reality that their products were being diverted to execution chambers, so they either imposed end-user agreements on buyers or stopped producing the drugs altogether. In the public sector, Britain responded by imposing export controls on drugs used for lethal injection and joined a chorus of countries calling for the European Commission to do the same, which it did.
When it comes to the death penalty, the United States today is what South Africa was in the 1980s. It is the subject of a targeted boycott of goods based on behavior that the rest of the world views as immoral. That's a mighty strange place to be for the self-declared leader of the free world.
However, portraying shooting people as a the "cost-effective" solution is of course besides the point: Why do so many people end up in jail in the first place--especially those unfortunate enough to be born with the wrong skin color? As with many other seemingly barbaric practices, never forget that there are some who stand to profit from the entire enterprise. Sticking with EU pharma firms, I am content with the belief that most are genuinely appalled by the use of their drugs for this application and are thus willing to stick with EU guidelines proscribing their distribution for such use.
I'm not saying their practices are always ethical, but that's a story for another blog post...