You may have heard this story a little bit this week: in Ohio, a man named Dennis McGuire was executed for the 1989 rape and murder of a pregnant newlywed named Joy Stewart (you can find a little more about the case here). His execution made headlines because it was the first in the nation to involve a new ‘lethal cocktail’ — Ohio used to use pentobarbital for executions, but they ran out after executing Harry Mitts Jr. last year. The maker of pentobarbital, Lundbeck, had asked Ohio, Oklahoma and others to stop using pentobarbital in executions back in 2011, so Ohio used a combination of midazolam (a sedative) and hydromorphone (a painkiller). This was an untested procedure, and it’s going to become more common — as you might expect, a lot of big pharma companies (like Lundbeck) who make drugs that can be used for executions don’t want their drugs used for executions for the potential political brushback, so states that execute are scrambling to find new combinations.
McGuire’s death took somewhere from 15-to-25 minutes (longer than normal), depending on which report you read. There were gasping and “snoring-esque” sounds. Prior to the execution, his attorneys had argued that he would ‘suffocate to death in agony and terror.’ Cue the lawyers rushing in:
Federal public defender Allen Bohnert called McGuire’s death “a failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio.”
“The court’s concerns expressed earlier this week have been confirmed,” said Bohnert, who did not witness the execution. “And more importantly, the people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names.”
Here’s a segment from Anderson Cooper with a panel including one Ohio journalist who was in the room:
So … capital punishment is obviously a fairly divisive issue, and anything that brings it to the fore is going to be ripe for debate/discussion. There are obviously two ways to look at this: the first is that essentially, Ohio just performed a science experiment on a human at the end of his life. That’s probably not what one expects from a state government, ideally (although, admittedly, we were talking about the last 10 minutes of a person’s life, so I guess there’s no better time to perform such an experiment). The flip side is that the entire argument is predicated on “Oh, Dennis McGuire suffered in his final moments.” Um, OK. How about Joy Stewart? In her final moments, thinking she was about a month away from bringing new life into the world, she was getting raped and stabbed in the woods. That’s not exactly a good way to go out either. Think of it like this: a lot of the comment boards on these posts will say something along the lines of “Ohio was barbaric to do this!” OK. Would you classify rape and murder as something other than barbaric? I know there are issues around forgiveness — Joy Stewart’s sister said the family had forgiven McGuire, but also believed he must pay for his actions — but this, as a one-time situation, seems perfectly OK to me, given the grand scope of the situation.
Now, the bigger situation here is with the execution drugs overall — because face it, capital punishment as a concept isn’t going away tomorrow. Look at the deal in Georgia:
Here’s the basic breakdown: the traditional three-drug cocktail for U.S. executions is primarily made in the EU, and the EU won’t sell it for executions — so yes, now executions are basically experiments and lawyers will rush in at every opportunity. There’s another similar case in Oklahoma, involving Michael Lee Wilson, who claimed he “felt his whole body burning” as he was being executed.
My personal two cents on the matter is that (a) executions aren’t going away anytime soon and (b) they typically involve the end-of-life of people who did heinous things, so (c) while it’s important to protect and respect the 8th Amendment, we shouldn’t be overly worried about the current climate — although someone needs to step up and provide a humane execution drug for sale in the U.S., if for no other reason than preventing a slew of lawsuits after the execution. Haven’t the families of the initial victim been through enough? It seems awkward to create a situation, decades after their loved one’s death, where they have to continually see news clips about the killer of their loved one having to suffer at his/her own end.