NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 6, 2006

At least 19 of the country's 38 death penalty states offer sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs to condemned inmates awaiting their execution, says Andrew Welsh-Huggins in USA Today.

According to state prison records:

  • Eight of 24 inmates put to death since Ohio resumed executions in 1999 took medication before they died by injection.
  • Florida allows members of the execution team to offer inmates Valium or a related drug two hours before a prisoner is scheduled to die.
  • Mississippi, Utah, Arkansas, Missouri and Montana have also provided drugs to inmates.
  • Four death penalty states prohibit the drugs, including Texas, which has the country's busiest execution chamber.

The practice does not violate national ethics standards for doctors and nurses -- who prescribe or administer the sedatives -- but makes some opponents of the death penalty uneasy because it involves doctors, however incidentally, in putting people to death.

And while doctors may oppose the practice on ethical grounds, others are against the sedatives for entirely different reasons.  Lois Hess, a victims' advocate in Baltimore, questioned why condemned inmates should die any easier than the people they killed.

Source: Andrew Welsh-Huggins, "States use drugs to calm condemned before execution," Associated Press/USA Today, November 6, 2006.

For text (subscription required):


Browse more articles on Government Issues