US Supreme Court to debate the use of new three-drug execution method

Xavier Symons
24 Jan 2015
Reproduced with Permission

The Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear a case about the constitutionality of a new execution method being used in Oklahoma's correctional facilities.

Due to a shortage of customary execution drugs, Oklahoma's authorities are using a new combination of barbiturates to execute prisoners. The combination involves the drugs midazolam, intended to cause unconsciousness, rocuronium bromide, which works as a paralytic, and then potassium chloride that serves as a heart-stopping agent.

In the case Glossip v. Gross, No. 14-7955, three Oklahoma inmates are claiming that the new procedure violates the eighth amendment. They argue that it poses a significant risk of 'terrible suffering'.

Motivation for the case has come in part from the botched execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood in Arizona last July.

Medical experts testifying on behalf of the inmates at an evidentiary hearing said the effects of high doses of midazolam, which Oklahoma adopted, were too unpredictable to justify its use. They reminded the court that FDA has not approved the use of midozolam as a general anaesthetic in clinical practice.

The case is likely to appear before the Supreme Court this term.

"Petitioners are pleased that the Supreme Court will review their case," said Dale Baich, one of the attorneys representing the death row inmates. In a statement, Baich said that the protocol is "not capable of producing a humane execution, even if administered properly."