Oklahoma Officials Endorse Nitrogen Executions As ‘Humane,’ But Some Medical Experts Aren’t Sure

Stateimpact Oklahoma

Quinton Chandler

Oklahoma wants to go where no state has gone before: Executing death row inmates with nitrogen gas. Officials say nitrogen will bring quick, painless deaths, but the research is slim — and it has never been used in U.S. executions.

The case for nitrogen hypoxia sounds simple. Nitrogen is already in the air we breathe, but, as long as humans get the right mix, nitrogen is safe. The state wants to make death row inmates breathe pure nitrogen.

State Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, is a cardiac anesthesiologist who signed his name to the bill that made nitrogen hypoxia a legal execution method in 2015. He says the inmates would die from “lack of oxygen,” not exposure to nitrogen. . . [Full text]

Laxalt signs on to letter supporting “conscience protections” for health workers with religious objections

The Nevada Independent

Michelle Rindels

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Adam Laxalt has signed on to a letter supporting a new set of regulations that aims to protect health workers who don’t want to perform abortions, help transgender patients transition or take other actions because of religious or moral objections.

Laxalt joined 16 other attorneys general in signing the March 27 letter to Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The letter lauds the “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority” regulations, saying it’s important to return to obeying conscience protections enacted by Congress and restore the rule of law in Washington. . . [Full Text]

Why It’s O.K. for Doctors to Participate in Executions

New York Times

Sandeep Jauhaur

On Thursday, Arkansas executed a 51-year-old convicted murderer named Ledell Lee, the first of four prisoners the state intends to execute by the end of the month. That would set a pace rarely if ever matched in the modern history of American capital punishment. The state’s rationale for its intended spree is morbidly pragmatic: The stock of one of its three execution drugs, the sedative midazolam, will expire at the end of April.

The three drugs in Arkansas’s execution protocol — midazolam; vecuronium bromide, a paralytic used during surgery that halts breathing; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart — are administered intravenously. The execution procedure therefore requires the insertion of catheters, controlled injection of lethal drugs and monitoring of a prisoner’s vital signs to confirm death. This makes it important that a doctor be present to assist in some capacity with the killing. . . [Full text]

 

Embargo on lethal drug stops executions and assisted suicides in US

 Bioedge

Michael Cook

A shortage of a lethal drug is stopping both executions and assisted suicide in the United States. The supply of Nembutal, the drug of choice for executing prisoners in many American states and for assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington state, has dried up because its European manufacturer, the Danish company Lundbeck, refuses to supply it for use in executions. This has had an unintended consequence: patients in Oregon who want physician-assisted suicide cannot get it.

In a recent, widely-reported execution, the state of Oklahoma tried a three-drug cocktail as a substitute for Nembutal (also called pentobarbital or sodium thiopental) last month, but the prisoner, Clayton Lockett, appeared to die in great pain. So patients in Oregon are not going to be using that. A second-best drug, secobarbital, costs between US$1,500 and $2,300-more than five times pentobarbital and it is still hard to obtain.

The botched execution has dismayed lobbyists for assisted suicide because it suggests that a satisfactory substitute for Nembutal will be hard to find. According to the Wilamette Week, an Oregon newspaper, “Advocates would like to expand the policy across the country, and their concerns about bad publicity hampering that rollout appear to account for their reluctance to discuss Oregon’s shortage.”

The assisted suicide lobby, therefore, has turned to other solutions. Compassion & Choices (the rebranded Hemlock Society) has asked the Oregon Board of Pharmacy to allow a pharmacy to manufacture the drug from raw materials.

“Providing this service is important to Oregonians, and I’m very concerned about what appears to be a complete lack of availability of the drug we’ve historically used,” State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (who is also a doctor who dispenses assisted suicide prescriptions) told Wilamette Week. “What I’ve been told by the pharmacists is the drug is completely unavailable, and we should not prescribe it.”

The irony that one group lobbying against death is frustrating the work of another group lobbying for death was not lost on bioethics gadfly Wesley J. Smith. “It seems to me that if the drugs are wrong to use in lawful executions, they are also wrong to prescribe to people who want to kill themselves. Death-causing is death-causing, and that ain’t medicine,” he wrote in the National Review.

There are other ironies. It is widely acknowledged that it is against medical ethics for doctors to participate in executions. However, Oregon is one of the few states that mandates physician participation in an execution. And anticipating objections by a doctor’s colleagues, it has banned sanctions against him (or her) for participating in an execution.


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Seven states file lawsuit against Obama administration health care plan

Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Florida and Texas have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and the U.S. Department of Labor and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.  The suit alleges violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act through the HHS birth control mandate that will force insurance coverage for surgical sterilization, contraceptives and embryocides.[CNN]