States Try to Obscure Execution Details as Drugmakers Hinder Lethal Injection

by | Mar 30, 2023 | Health

In 2011, Jeffrey Motts was executed in South Carolina. More than a decade later, the state hasn’t carried out another execution because officials have struggled to obtain the drugs needed for lethal injection.

Now, to resume executions, lawmakers are debating a bill that would further shroud the state’s lethal injection protocols from public scrutiny by shielding the identities of the drug suppliers.

More than a dozen states have passed such “shield” laws that conceal key details about the lethal injection process, including the identities of the execution team or drug suppliers, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit research organization. All 17 states that carried out executions between January 2011 and August 2018 withheld some information about the process. Georgia even calls information about its executions a “state secret.”

Backers of such laws say they are needed to protect suppliers and medical professionals involved in executions. But Austin Sarat, a political science and law professor at Amherst College, who teaches courses on the death penalty, said such policies conceal the problems connected to lethal injection.

“The legitimacy of capital punishment has been tied up with the promise that it’s safe and humane,” he said. Secrecy hinders “the public’s ability to judge what is being done in its name.”

Still, it’s far from clear whether — or how — South Carolina and other states will be able to obtain the needed drugs, even with a cloak of secrecy. For more than a decade, many U.S., European, and Asian pharmaceutical companies have opposed the use of their medications in exe …

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