Friday, February 11, 2011

Wanted: Steady supply of Sodium Thiopental

Real books - headed for the museum?

“States are scrambling to find enough sodium thiopental after its sole U.S. manufacturer ceased production and some overseas supplies dried up.”

Sodium thiopental is an anaesthetic drug which has been used in a cocktail to effect executions. Lethal injection, it’s generally called. Lately, it’s been used straight-up in massive dosage for reasons I don’t fully understand, nor do I need to. The drug is also used in tiny doses in general anaesthesia and the induction of comas for medical reasons.

It’s in short supply, and you have to go beyond the Yahoo News story above to find out why. The drug was developed in the 1930s by Abbott Laboratories. Abbott Laboratories later moved its medical drug development and manufacture into a branch company called Hospira. It’s Hospira’s decision to cease manufacturing the drug that is responsible for the current shortage. In a statement last September, Hospira said:

"Hospira manufactures this product because it improves or saves lives, and the company markets it solely for use as indicated on the product labeling. The drug is not indicated for capital punishment, and Hospira does not support its use in this procedure."{McKinley, Jesse (28 September 2010). Judges Question California's Motivation on Execution". New York Times.}

I’m not finished my review of Tongue Screws and Testimonies yet, and my journey through the massive Martyrs Mirror in preparation for the review has left me shaken once again by a knowledge that there are humans in the world who can look another human in the eye while they methodically take away his or her life. The cruelty under which many of the Anabaptist martyrs died leaves me with the distinct impression that given license to kill, a mass of humanity would emerge from the cracks and line up for the opportunity to inflict cruelty and death on others.

And then I read about the shortage of sodium thiopental in the USA and these suspicions are reinforced. And I remember that in a recent interview with Peter Mansbridge, Prime Minister Harper said, “I believe that there are circumstances where capital punishment is justified,” and I wonder if humanity is always just one careless slip away from barbarism.

Even though we’re still struggling as a nation to recover from the most recent recession, our current government is gearing up to build prisons so that harsher and longer penalties can be applied. I would wager that they’d get far more bang for the buck if they put that money into evening sports, recreation, arts programs for junior high-aged kids.

A wise person probably came up with the following definition as advice to the republican/conservative thinkers of the world: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." (Rita Mae Brown?) Are you listening, Stephen Harper?

Meanwhile, there’s a tremendous economic opportunity out there for some Canadian laboratory. Produce sodium thiopental for the US capital punishment market. Maybe their folly can help drag us out of the recession!


  1. Word is that at the beginning of the H1N1 crisis the Tory Caucus met and proposed the building of many new hospitals with the accompanying positive economic spinoffs. The double benefit was sure to also allay the public fears, and have political benefits to the proponents. Then someone promoted handwashing and it caught on with the public, and the hospital safety myth was exploded. Maybe, we, the public have a duty to convince ourselves again that handwashing makes the most sense and convincing the politicians that building prisons will lose votes.
    Ron P. Ste Anne MB

  2. Although I likely raised my eyebrows when I heard Harper make the comment about capital punishment, it was no surprise. Harper is a good student, and after a few gaffes has learned to let out bits of his perspective and what he really wants when he feels it is safe or even beneficial. I believe he made the comment for a few reasons; to firm up support among those who wish to see a return to the practice of capital punishment in this land and to make the general population a little less uncomfortable with idea so that, should he win a majority government, it will smooth the process he will undertake to move the penal system in that direction.
    John Bartel, Lanigan