Secretly trafficking and then openly using unapproved drugs is now A-OK. That’s the message sent out yesterday by the Arizona Supreme Court, which allowed state officials to conceal their source for sodium thiopental (we know only that it’s NOT Hospira, the one FDA-approved supplier), and to continue with plans to execute Jeffrey Landrigan on October 26.
It is already well known that the death penalty compromises the integrity of the medical profession. Doctors, nurses, and EMTs are all bound by an oath to “do no harm” but all are involved, in a variety of ways, in the deliberate killing of prisoners. Now, it appears that our zeal for capital punishment is undermining the integrity of efforts to control and regulate powerful drugs.
Normally, if you acquired a controlled substance from a non-FDA approved source and announced your intention to use it for a non-FDA approved purpose, you would expect some sort of legal trouble. But, apparently, as long as that non-FDA approved purpose is putting someone to death, the normal rules don’t apply. Instead, you get to keep the source of your drug supply a secret, and you get to use those drugs however you want.
As for Jeffrey Landrigan, some DNA testing litigation in his case continues, and there is a clemency hearing on Friday. Landrigan’s case is sadly typical, in that his trial lawyer failed miserably to present mitigating evidence, and in that no federal appeals court has cared enough to hold a hearing on that issue. It is a bit unusual in that the judge who sentenced him to death now says she would not have done so, had she been aware of information that lawyer failed to present.
So while it appears the Arizona officials can kill Jeffrey Landrigan with a drug it got from God knows where, there is still a chance to convince them that they shouldn’t.