The European Union is now blocking importation of lethal injection technology into the United States
With its legislation this week limiting our access to the drugs we use to kill one another, the European Union has just proven that if America is still a superpower, that designation must carry a prominent asterisk for how easily we're humbled these days. The EU is now blocking importation of technology into the United States that we cannot be trusted to use properly. As widely reported yesterday, the EU is cutting off our supply to the drugs we use for lethal injections, some of which we no longer have the capacity to manufacture domestically:
The European Commission has imposed tough new restrictions on the export of anaesthetics used to execute people in the US, in a move that will exacerbate the already extreme shortage of the drugs in many of the 34 states that still practice the death penalty.
The EC has added eight barbiturates to its list of restricted products that are tightly controlled on the grounds that they may be used for "capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". The eight include pentobarbital and sodium thiopental - the two drugs on which almost all American executions currently depend. (Source: The Guardian)
America is now the target of a coercive technique that we've regularly used to punish Iran and North Korea. In our international diplomacy, such embargoes and sanctions are sometimes our last resort before military intervention. But before the EU schedules its armed infiltration of Huntsville, Texas, I have another suggestion that will add teeth to its new hard line policy: Roll out the kind of asset freezes and travel bans which are now punishing Syrian officials.
I encourage the European Union to identify the key players who carry out the death penalty (including governors of the 34 capital punishment states), freeze any EU-based bank accounts and investments these individuals hold, and block their travel to and through European countries.
Responsible medical professionals have long since distanced themselves from the death penalty. Just as the American Psychological Association bans its member psychologists from participating in military torture techniques, the American Board of Anesthesiologists will decertify an anesthesiologist who helps with lethal injection. Unfortunately there is no similarly responsible organization to keep our statesmen and the legal profession at bay from continuing to oil the machinery of death in this country.
The death penalty is a blind spot in our democracy, our own peculiar national anosognosia. It probably will take the rest of the world shouting us down in order to recognize our impairment.
Andrew Cohen recently discussed the sorry sight of executioners scrambling to stockpile their toxic supplies after the last remaining American maker of sodium thiopental pulled out of the market. "What does it say about a state -- and a society -- that has to buy its lethal drugs on the sly through a private middleman, as Nebraska evidently did recently?," Cohen asked last week.
All of us who wish America were exceptional (but know it's not) must thank the EU for cranking up the decibels on this important, shameful question.
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Ford Vox, MD, is a physician, based in Atlanta, who specializes in caring for people with complex brain injuries. He has written for Newsweek, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times.