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Execution by Propofol

Jim Salter has this story for AP on Missouri's announcement that they will be using propofol for their new single-drug protocol.  (Prior post is here.)

Last week the Missouri Department of Corrections announced it was switching from its longstanding three-drug method to use of a single drug, propofol. Missouri would be the first state ever to use propofol as an execution drug.

"This is very, very concerning with a drug that we don't know, and seeing the problems of the one-drug method," said Kathleen Holmes of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Now if we assume that the antecedent of "this" is the statement immediately preceding (and I have to hedge because out-of-context quotes do happen), that's a strange position.  Obviously somebody has to be first.

A drug we don't know?  Propofol's properties are very well known.

As for the "problems of the one-drug method," we should remember that this is the opponents' proffered alternative method in their attacks on the three-drug method, just as lethal injection generally was their proffered alternative to the gas chamber and electric chair.

That's not to say that propofol is problem-free.  I've been told that some patients scream when the injection begins, and that would certainly be bad PR in an execution.  Personally, I'm not concerned that an inmate being executed feels an amount of pain that is small enough that it is not considered a big deal in a medical treatment context.  But witnesses might interpret this as more painful than it really was, and unlike a surgery patient the executed inmate won't be able to tell us afterward.  A state going to propofol would do well to take precautions to insure this doesn't happen.


Give the prisoner some decently strong sedatives with his last meal. The obsession with the prisoner's pain, or more correctly displays of pain, is out of hand. Death often comes with pain. Time to stop acting like a bunch of children and get on with what is almost always vastly delayed justice.

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