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The legitimacy of the death penalty in the U.S. is regularly debated. But now, at least 35 states that already administer capital punishment may no longer be able to do so. Hospira, the only American manufacturer of the drug sodium thiopental, has decided to halt production of the anaesthetic commonly used in lethal injections. The decision comes after Hospira's attempt to produce the drug at its facility outside Milan was thwarted by Italian officials who demanded the drug not be used for executions.

The lack of sodium thiopental has already resulted in the postponement of several scheduled executions, as states are now forced to search for an alternative drug. Some execution-opposed countries aren't exactly willing to help the US carry out the death penalty, and some early reactions to Hospira's announcement question whether this might be a good excuse for ending capital punishment altogether.

  • A Good Time Stop Executions?  Mother Jones' Kevin Drum admits that, as someone who is both opposed to the death penalty as well as a bit ambivalent about it, the idea that "the whole process is so unbearable that hangings and electric chairs and firing squads and gas chambers are all beyond the pale, then maybe it really is inherently barbaric." Hospira's decision to take the lethal injection drug off the market makes Drum question if this is a good time to get rid of the death penalty altogether.
Besides, it's still the case that putting someone to death is a mind-bogglingly expensive and convoluted process; we plainly aren't able to apply it fairly; and alone among punishments it's impossible to reverse if and when a mistake is discovered. That's reason enough to end the practice, and hopefully the end of sodium thiopental will prompt at least a few states to bring an end to the death penalty too.
  • Unapproved Alternatives May Be Dangerous  James Clark at reports that in the months leading up to Hospira's official announcement, there was a nation-wide shortage of sodium thiopental. In order to carry out planned executions, some states, such as California, turned to the UK for the drug before its export was banned. Clark points out, since Hospira stopped manufacture, FDA-approved sodium thipental is not produced anywhere in the world. Non-approved sources might be "ineffective, leading to a torturous execution that the Supreme Court has ruled would be unconstitutional." His conclusion: "If there's one thing this lethal injection drama demonstrates without a doubt, it’s the massive waste of time and tax money spent on a broken system. Personally, I can think of a few more important things state employees could spend their time and budgets doing instead of searching the world for killer."
  • Some Countries That Oppose the Death Penalty Refuse to Enable US  According to Monsters and Critics' European News, the German Health Minister appealed to the country's pharmaceutical companies to refuse the sale of any drug to the United States that could potentially be used for lethal injections. "But the letter was an appeal, not an order...a full legal ban on exports of sodium thiopental was not possible under German drugs law, and could only be ordained under export controls that are administered by German trade authorities."
  • Executions are Executions, Lethal Injection or Not  Bad Attitudes blogger Jerome Doolittle sees little significance in the news that a key ingredient in lethal injections is no longer available because, he says, execution is the same no matter how it's carried out. He writes:
Only a nation fundamentally childish could take any of this seriously. You want quick and painless? Luckily for you, extensive field work was carried out during the last century on modern, efficient, and economical ways of executing human beings. And — not that Stalin or Hitler or Mao cared — the winning technique just happened to be swift, sure, and painless. Here’s how the Mafia describes it: “Two in the head and you know he’s dead.”

Grow up for once in your life, America. The condemned man isn’t Rover, and you aren’t putting him gently to sleep so he can wake up in Doggy Heaven. Stop acting like you care, because you don’t. Or you wouldn’t be killing the guy in the first place.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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