Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Missouri has a problem

Missouri has a problem, and it is not just that it's Missouri.  Missouri's problem is that its state Supreme Court will not allow it to kill death row inmates fast enough, and it is in danger of having the stock of its new execution drug expire before it can use it all.

Missouri's attorney general, Chris Koster, put out a panicked news release yesterday noting that he had demanded that the Missouri Supreme Court set execution dates for a couple of death row inmates soonest possible, because Missouri only has so much propofol and what it does have will expire next spring.

And now for a brief interlude:

The Good Counsel blog isn't post-partisan.  I believe there are many important differences between Republicans and Democrats, and it is no secret that I vote on the Democratic line and think the GOP has gone nuts.  But the Republicans don't have the market cornered on stupidity, either.  As it turns out, Chris Koster is a Democrat.  But if I were Ford Frick I'd have to put an asterisk* by his name, because Koster spent most of his waking hours as a Republican until seeing the light in 2007 and switching parties.  Plus, he looks like a Republican, in that preachery way that middle-aged Republican men look, with the parted hair and the wild eyes.

Missouri AG Chris Koster (D?), who goes to Great Clips.
* - Despite Billy Crystal's pre-eminent movie titling skills, there was never actually an asterisk by Roger Maris's record.  The record book, such as it was (unofficial at the time) merely specified that Maris held the record for home runs in a 162-game season, while Babe Ruth retained the record for a 154-game season. 

No reliable word on which party Frick favored, but his predecessor, Happy Chandler, was a yellow-dog Democrat until civil rights turned him independent, then into a (perhaps unintentionally) racist caricature.  He was particularly unfond of people from Zimbabwe.  His Wikipedia photo makes him look like a mafioso, but maybe only because that was the style back in those days.

Don Happy Chandler, at youse guys' service.
Anyway, back to Missouri.

I stop short of being fully anti-death penalty, mostly because I think there are some awfully heinous crimes that are within the capability of human beings.  If Hitler hadn't offed himself, I would have had a hard time not advocating for him to be hanged at Nuremburg with most of the rest of his cronies.  But even though it is fairly rarely administered, I think it is still handed out too often, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post.

You may remember propofol as the drug that killed Michael Jackson, or at least made it much easier for him to die.  It's used mostly as a general anesthetic, and it is marvelous at that task.  This is the first I have heard of it being used as an execution drug.

There has been a lot of controversy lately about traditional execution drugs such as sodium thiopental and potassium chloride, mostly because the companies that manufacture them have become reluctant to do so or, in some cases, have been banned by their home countries from selling them to the U.S. for use in executions, which has caused a bit of a shortage.

Also, it bears mentioning that Big Pharma isn't exactly excited about having its name-brand drugs closely associated with state-sponsored death. This shouldn't be surprising, given how spectacularly the whole "Mississippi Gas Chamber Presented by Exxon"** thing failed.

** - Yes, I know that the "gas" in "gas chamber" is not gasoline. Roll with it.

Because it is getting harder for states to find these drugs, state legislatures have been casting about for other drugs to use when humanely dispatching their most fearsome criminals.  (Or, at least, their blackest ones.)  Missouri settled on propofol and managed to trick the manufacturer into selling it some before it became clear that the state wasn't planning on using it for surgical anesthesia or a Michael Jackson tribute.

I'm a big believer in respecting expiration dates, especially after that time I found aspirin in my grandparents' medicine cabinet that carbon dating showed was from the Nixon era.  And so is Chris Koster, I guess.  But there is something wrong with being so anxious to kill people, even very bad people, that you will try to hasten their deaths because you might lack the reliable tools to kill them when the official time comes.

And maybe we should look at Missouri's problem as a sign that it's time to join the rest of the civilized world.

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