On January 19, Dennis McGuire died gasping and choking during a lethal injection administered by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. “Over those 11 minutes or more he was fighting for breath, and I could see both of his fists were clenched the entire time,” wrote Father Lawrence Hummer, the Catholic priest who gave McGuire his last rites and witnessed the execution. “There is no question in my mind that Dennis McGuire suffered greatly over many minutes.”
Ohio corrections officials had used an experimental two-drug cocktail of midazolam, a sedative and anesthetic, and hydromorphone, a painkiller and morphine derivative, to execute McGuire. Three weeks later, on February 7, Ohio Governor John Kasich delayed the state's next scheduled execution, of the convicted murderer Gregory Lott, until November while the state reviews McGuire’s execution and determines what to do next.
Why did Ohio, which has used lethal injection since it resumed executions in 1999, suddenly try an unproven chemical mixture on McGuire? The answer lies in a growing shortage of standard lethal-injection drugs brought about primarily by a 2011 export ban by the European Union, the effects of which are starting to be felt in death-row chambers across America. The ban severed U.S. prisons from the last large-scale manufacturers of sodium thiopental, a key anesthetic in lethal injections. In recent years, some smaller drugmakers elsewhere in the world have also declined to sell sodium thiopental and other lethal-injection drugs to U.S. states, citing activist pressure, the fear of lawsuits, and their ethical obligations.