The said Tuesday it would strengthen export controls on the sale of sodium thiopental, a sedative used as part of a lethal injection combination, as well as other drugs that could be used for executions. The commission said it wanted to "prevent their use for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."The immediate effect will be to cut off the supply of so-called "short and medium acting anesthetics." That means no more pentobarbital or sodium thiopental will be shipped to prison officials.
Some states have been stockpiling the lethal drugs in the face of export controls imposed by other countries and licensing agreements required by manufacturers. Of course prisons have been able to purchase the drugs through back channels - even though that would appear to violate federal laws that make it illegal to sell a drug for "off label" purposes.
The alternative for states is to use other drugs as part of the lethal cocktail, but such a move would precipitate new legal challenges under the Eighth Amendment.
The death penalty is an anachronism whose time has come and gone. Whether it is abolished by statute, court decision or the realities of the modern-day marketplace, the state-sponsored killing of inmates is dying a slow, lingering death.