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Killing someone not as easy as it is made out to be

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The execution of Joseph Franklin, a confessed murderer languishing on death row in the American state of Missouri, may not go ahead quite as planned.

But, according to a report in The Economist, the glitch has nothing to do with last-minute legal appeals or Supreme Court challenges. Franklin’s guilt is not in doubt. has admitted to killing at least 15 blacks and Jews, and claims he was responsible for putting publisher Larry Flynt in a wheelchair.

Instead, the possible delay is being caused by problems getting a drug to inject into Franklin on 20 November, the day he is due to be executed.

Missouri’s Department of Corrections had planned to give Franklin a lethal injection of the common anaesthetic Propofol until the drug’s manufacturer, the German firm Fresenius Kabi, directed that it must not be used for capital punishment.

In response, the Department obtained an unsanctioned batch of the anaesthetic to use. But Missouri was warned that if Propofol was used for an executive, this would trigger European Union sanctions that might lead to shortages of the drug in the State’s hospitals, forcing the State to return the drugs.

The State then looked for an alternative and settled on Pentobarbital, but this has also proved to be a problematic choice because its manufacturer bars distribution of the drug to prisons.

The conundrum has led to suggestions that compounding pharmacists be hired to make up batches of drugs that can be used for executions.

But the record of compounding pharmacies in the United States is less than reassuring – in 2006 the Food and Drug Administration found that a third of drugs produced by compounding pharmacies were unusable, and last year contamination of a compound medicine caused a deadly meningitis outbreak in Massachusetts.

Doubts about the purity and efficacy of drugs intended for use in lethal injections could open the way for legal challenges against executions on the grounds that they could violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Adrian Rollins