"Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?"
The execution of Albert G. Brown, Jr. in California has been delayed not only because of legal concerns, but also due to dwindling supplies of sodium thiopental. In my eight years of doing ECT we often had to switch back and forth between methohexital and thiopental (both barbiturates) because for whatever reason national supplies recurrently ran short. Why I wonder?
I remember that the morning of Timothy McVeigh's execution some years ago was an ECT day, and incredibly, the anesthesiologist involved (not one I usually worked with fortunately) commented before the patient was asleep that pre-ECT drugs and lethal injection drugs are similar (big differences: ECT involves supplemental oxygen and therapeutic effect; execution, not so much). When it comes to surgical types, the stereotypes are generally true.
The article mentions, to morbid and comic effect, the assurances of the spokesperson of California's Department of Corrections that adequate thiopental was available "to stop Mr. Brown's heart." Absurdly, the drug's maker then objected that its product was not "indicated for capital punishment."
Capital punishment is ultimate faith in the power of the state, which makes the conservative case for it puzzling. Execution is misguided for the same reason that suicide is misguided--in both cases death's finality overlooks the perennial possibility of human errors of judgment, whether of culpability or of the value of one's own life.
In any case, making execution into a quasi-medical procedure is a mockery. If we will celebrate death and its deterrent effect, let us haul out the gallows and the guillotine.