Most states in the US that administer the death penalty, as well as the federal government, use lethal injection as their method of execution. In almost all of these jurisdictions, the method used is the successive administration of three drugs in specified doses. This particular legally prescribed procedure has been criticized for not having originally been based on careful science, for using outmoded drugs, and for possibly causing extreme suffering in some cases at the end of the condemned person's life. It would be trivial to develop better and more modern procedures that would be immune to this legal vulnerability, and, for instance, Missouri has attempted to do this by switching to the modern anaesthetic propofol. I'm not a doctor, but it seems obvious to me that this should be scientifically easy to do, since, e.g., opioid addicts die peacefully of overdoses all the time, and veterinarians don't seem to have any problems carrying out euthanasia on someone's beloved terrier in a painless way.

Why, then, is this battle still being fought? In states where the state government and the majority of voters favor the death penalty, it would seem to be in their interest to redo the protocols. They could then accomplish their goal, to carry out executions, without having to deal with legal challenges based on the theory that the method was cruel and unusual under the constitution. It would also seem to be politically expedient for them because it would eliminate one of the moral arguments used by their opponents. And there are some people who believe the death penalty is moral, but that it's immoral to do it in a way that causes unnecessary suffering. For these people, it would seem ethically necessary to support a change in the protocols.

Is the inertia because the poorer protocol has already survived legal challenges, while the new one would still have to? Is it because they're afraid that this would be seen as an admission that they'd been using a bad procedure in the past? Is it just not the kind of legislative project that appeals to lawmakers politically? Is it because they might have difficulties obtaining drugs like propofol from suppliers who don't want to sell them for this purpose? But it seems that there are severe difficulties in obtaining supplies of the currently prescribed drug cocktail as well.

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    Might assisting in getting the medical part right run contrary to any physicians Hippocratic Oath, potentially? – PoloHoleSet Nov 19 at 14:21
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    @PoloHoleSet I'm sure that would cause a problem, but you would think in the entirety of the United States you could find a few doctors who interpret the Hippocratic Oath as allowing one to work to minimize the suffering of someone who is already going to be killed regardless of method used. *note I'm not saying rather or not that is a valid interpretation of the oath, just that it seems plausible that you can find someone who would interpret it that way. – dsollen Nov 19 at 15:51
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    @PoloHoleSet: It doesn't seem likely to me that a medical degree is necessary in order to design a protocol like this. A veterinarian would have plenty of training, for example. You need a medical degree in order to not kill your patient :-) – Ben Crowell Nov 19 at 15:54
  • @CGCampbell The oath is best known for the shortened version "First do no harm", the promise that doctors will never use their skills to hurt others. Most physicians within the USA, when graduating, are asked to either swear the Hippocratic oath or swear some similar oath about not doing harm, such as swearing to abide by the Geneva Convention. : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocratic – dsollen Nov 19 at 15:55
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    @dsollen - Agreed. You'll find someone, somewhere willing to do it. Someone with the expertise and credentials for something this specific who matches that is going to narrow the pool, and there is the obstacle of getting the companies on board. I presented that more as a bureaucratic hurdle and complication more than an absolute stop, but there was nothing in my comment that really spelled out that intent. – PoloHoleSet Nov 20 at 17:43

Because there is objections to the death penalty in the first place and drug companies are beginning to refuse to supply drugs for lethal injection drugs at all. It is getting harder to get the drugs and if they started using new ones there would likely be restrictions placed when purchasing them to attempt to prevent them from being used in lethal injection.



Over 50 global healthcare companies have taken action to prevent their medicines being misused in lethal injection executions across the USA, including making public statements against the diversion of medicines to death rows for use in capital punishment.

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    Thanks for your answer. Maybe it could be improved by citing evidence that this is the main or only reason, and by explaining why a state like Missouri could still make the switch despite this issue. – Ben Crowell Nov 19 at 14:03
  • @BenCrowell I am not sure what evidence you would want. I would think the fact that people are opposed to it and appear to think that supporting changes to it would be supporting the act itself. – Joe W Nov 19 at 14:09
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    I am not sure this adds up. As mentioned by the OP, opiate overdose would be better than what is currently used, and anyone could make morphine. – Dave Nov 20 at 9:28
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    @Dave But the government wouldn't just be allowed to use a drug that anyone created, they would need to make sure it was safe to use for the intended use. – Joe W Nov 20 at 13:20

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