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Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf

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Virginia to OK Electric Chair if Drugs Are Unavailable, But Thereís an Alternative, Says John Banzhaf

Virginiaís legislature has just authorized the use of the electric chair when lethal-injection drugs arenít available due to scarcities and sales restrictions caused by death penalty opponents, but many claim the language is vague and would invite a whole new round of litigation, reports the Washington Post. But there's a simple and inexpensive alternative, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf

Washington, DC, March 14, 2016 --( Both sides seem to overlook the fact that there appears to be another simple, easy, and inexpensive alternative to avoid the many problems associated with executions using injectable drugs, including company restrictions on their sale or use, expiration dates on injectable drugs now faced in several states, and so-called “botched executions,” says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

The simple answer - and alternative to using injectable drugs for executions, with the many challenges this method is again facing - is putting the condemned on the pill, says Banzhaf.

Since most of the concerns of using drugs for capital punishment involve problems - including an artificial scarcity - with drugs which are injected, an obvious alternative would be for states to simply use pills rather than injections to administer drugs such as barbiturates, whose lethal properties are well controlled, well known, and very clearly established, as noted in a Slate article entitled “How Does Assisted Suicide Work?”

"Providing a condemned man with barbiturate pills to cause a quick and painless death - as in 'death with dignity' jurisdictions - is well tested, established, and accepted, does not require any trained personnel, and could avoid the many medical problems with injections, as well as restrictions on injectable drugs imposed by many manufacturers because of ethical and moral concerns," suggests Banzhaf.

Barbiturate pills are approved for certain medical uses, and are even covered by Medicare Part D, according to the NCOA website article "Medicare Part D Drug Plans; What They Must, May, and Cannot Cover."

So the common and generally accepted practice of prescribing drugs for "off-label use" - using a drug approved for one purpose to do something else -might permit states to use barbiturate pills in executions, and perhaps even allow them to again be imported from abroad, says Banzhaf, based upon the FDA’s website publication "Understanding Investigational Drugs and Off Label Use of Approved Drugs."

Oregon's death with dignity program helps terminally ill patients end their lives simply and painlessly by providing prescriptions for Seconal pills which the patient takes himself, notes Oregon’s “FAQs About the Death with Dignity Act” web site.

"If this method is appropriate for totally innocent and often frail elderly people seeking a quick and painless death with dignity, it should be more than good enough for condemned murderers," Banzhaf argues.

Using well-known, more readily available pills rather than injections for executions might avoid the major problems with lethal injections highlighted by death penalty opponents, eliminate the need for medically trained personnel (who often refuse on ethical and/or professional grounds) to participate in executions, and have many other advantages, suggests Banzhaf.
Contact Information
George Washington University Law School
Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf
202 994-7229 // 703 527-8418

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