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Arizona Drops Controversial Death Penalty Drug Midazolam

By George Khoury, Esq. on December 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After two botched executions in 2014 of an Arizona inmate, and an Oklahoma inmate, much public attention was brought to the issue of what drugs are administered to execute death row inmates. After the two-hour long execution, Arizona's attorney general temporarily halted all other executions in the state, and a court order keeps the temporary ban in place until the order is lifted. While the two-hour long execution was successful, the inmate struggled, grasped for air, and moaned in pain during the process, which evidenced that the anesthetic, midazolam, was not working properly.

A problem for many states, like Arizona, that seek to execute death row inmates is the availability of humane methods. Drug manufacturers, while usually more than willing to make a sale, generally do not want their product to be associated with the death penalty and have made their products difficult to obtain for death penalty states.

Death Penalty Drug Controversy

The constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment is guaranteed even to death row inmates. The drug at the center of the controversy, midazolam, is linked to multiple prolonged executions where inmates were visibly suffering for prolonged periods of time. The drug is part of a three-drug lethal injection cocktail and is used to anesthetize inmates before the last two drugs are administered.

The state of Arizona has agreed to stop using midazolam as a result of a settlement agreement reached between the state and seven death row inmates who had filed a lawsuit. The state's agreement to stop using the drug has been met with approval by experts in the field. However, several other states, such as Oklahoma, still use the drug.

Execution Should Look Like Torture

Despite the controversy over whether the death penalty should exist at all, most people on both sides of the debate can at least agree on one thing: executions should be done humanely. In Oklahoma, it was determined that the lethal injection cocktail was improperly administered and as a result, resembled torture as the inmate grasped for air and struggled throughout the process for nearly an hour. Normally, the lethal injection cocktail should only take 15 minutes and should not cause any prolonged suffering.

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