It’s an odd time for death in the United States.
While there is a new push for death via euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, there is also a push against the death penalty in several states.
This movement against the death penalty has made it increasingly difficult for states to access the drugs required for lethal injections. In response to that difficulty, the state of Arizona’s Department of Corrections has unveiled a unique solution that would effectively allow lawyers to kill their own death row clients.
The new policy, among other things, contains a clause that allows for defense attorneys to obtain lethal drugs to execute their own clients. These drugs would be subject to approval by the department director.
However, these drugs are extremely difficult to come by legally. Current state execution protocol stipulates the use either of two barbiturates, pentobarbital or thiopental for lethal injection. Thiopental is no longer manufactured in the U.S., and is illegal to import, while manufacturers of pentobarbital refuse to provide the drug for executions.
The difficulty in acquiring these drugs has led to the experimental use of less-effective drugs, sometimes with gruesome results.
“This is a bizarre notion that calls for actions that are both illegal and impossible,” Dale Baich from the office of The Federal Public Defender in Arizona told Arizona Central.
“A prisoner or prisoner's lawyer cannot legally obtain these drugs or legally transfer them to the Department. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, we cannot imagine a way to obtain the drug. Those that obtain controlled substances illegally, go to prison.”
The unusual policy comes at a time when many states are reconsidering the death penalty, and at a time of significant decline in executions. Thirty death sentences were imposed in 2016, the lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. In 1996, death penalty sentences peaked at 315.
Leaders in the Catholic Church both in the United States and abroad have also been in front of the push to abolish the death penalty.
Pope Francis has spoken against the death penalty several times, including in his address to the United States Congress in 2015, when he called for the end of the death penalty “since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said.
He also called the death penalty “unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person” in his message to the Sixth World Congress against the Death Penalty in 2016.
Many bishops have also been outspoken about their opposition to the death penalty. In Sept. 2016, as California considered a ballot measure that would end the death penalty, Archbishop Jose Gomez said, “It is time for us to end the death penalty – not only in California but throughout the United States and throughout the world.”
“In a culture of death, I believe mercy alone can be the only credible witness to the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.”
Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia released a joint statement last month calling for the abolition of the death penalty in their state after an execution.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty may be used “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” However, it adds, such cases today “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”