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Bill Would Make Much Of Ohio’s Execution Process Secret

A new bill in the Ohio legislature would hide from the public information about pharmacists, doctors, drug companies and drug ingredients. 

Backers say it’s necessary to allow executions to continue. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

State Representative Jim Buchy supports the death penalty.  And that’s why he says the legislature needs to pass a bill that would give anonymity to drug makers, pharmacies and others involved in the lethal injection process.  He it’s a way to satisfy concerns raised by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Buchy – “The attorney general has indicated that he will not allow executions to continue into 2015 unless people are protected – the people who make the drugs and sell the drugs – are protected for confidentiality so that the professionals can make the drugs that are needed to carry out the wishes of the courts in capital cases. “

Under Buchy’s bill, pharmacists can compound drugs to be used in executions. That’s essentially the process of combining various drugs and chemicals.  And this legislation would keep the ingredients of those compounds private as well.  It’s becoming more difficult to get execution drugs these days since some companies refuse to sell their drugs to be used for that purpose.  He says secrecy is needed in this process so that execution drugs can continue to be obtained in the future.

Buchy – “Jo, the mere threat right now of litigation is one of the motivating factors for the drug companies not selling their drugs and for pharmacists to be hesitant about not doing their jobs.”

Buchy says there is widespread support among lawmakers for his proposal and he expects it will be passed before the end of this year.  But even if the majority of legislators are willing to pass the bill, there are many who don’t like it, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.  Group spokesman Mike Brickner says this bill is a step in the wrong direction.

Brickner “We’ve had four botched executions and after each one, the courts and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has re-examined and changed their protocols.  We’ve had many problems and unfortunately, this move for more secrecy is going to take us in the wrong direction.  When you have something that isn’t working, where there are problems, making it more secret is only going to guarantee additional problems in the future.”

Brickner says compounding pharmacies are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration.  He says if the drugs used or the formula used to compound the drugs is made secret, there’s nothing to guarantee the death penalty can be carried out in a way that is constitutional.  And he says that should worry everyone.

Brickner “Even if you are a person who supports the death penalty, if you believe in the death penalty, then you want a death penalty that you can have faith is being done in a way that is humane and constitutional and complies with all of our laws.  More secrecy is only going to engender more distrust from the public and more suspicion that things are not going as they should so for even people who are supporters of the death penalty, this bill is just bad news.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer has done extensive studies of Ohio’s death penalty.  He says he’s not sure the question about whether the method is humane is the main question in this case.

Pfeifer – ‘Well the cruel and unusual punishment, we used to execute people in the electric chair.  It’s gruesome.  I voted against getting rid of the electric chair.  My view was if we are going to do it, it ought to be unpleasant for everybody, including the public.”

But even lethal injections can appear to be unpleasant for the inmate involved. Back in January of this year, inmate Dennis McGuire gasped, choked and struggled for about 25 minutes after being injected with a combination of drugs never before used in the United States.

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