Point of View: FDA oversteps bounds when distributing lethal injection drugs from U.K.

By Nick Dean
Editor in Chief

Our Food and Drug Administration has crossed the line, and entered territory where the organization itself has said it doesn’t belong — executions.

A public records request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, a liberal legislative lobbying nonprofit, produced e-mail correspondence between Arizona officials and the FDA discussing the shortage of sodium thiopental — the drug used to put inmates into a sleep prior to execution. The messages prove that the FDA was actively engaged in the execution process for the state of Arizona. One e-mail states that an FDA official wanted a shipment of the drug to “be processed expeditiously to [them] as it was for the purpose of executions and not for use by the general public.” The kicker: the drugs were going to be coming from Britain. (Frankly, I was also shocked an FDA official thought his bureaucracy-filled administration could do anything “expeditiously.” Lest we forget the expedient and error-prone egg farm inspections of August 2010.)

According to the Associated Press, a federal lawsuit in Arizona “challenges the use of overseas drugs, saying they may be substandard and could lead to botched executions if they do not put an inmate to sleep properly.”

The FDA official’s recommendation is degrading, improper and simply unjust. A drug “not meant for the general public” is the exact drug that should not be given special, “expeditious” treatment especially if it is being shipped from over seas.

The ACLU is accusing the FDA of saying one thing and doing another and there is definitely proof. FDA spokesman Christopher Kelly told the Associated Press, “Reviewing substances imported or used for the purpose of state-authorized lethal injection clearly falls outside of FDA’s explicit public health role.” Thanks to the power of the public records request, we now know that is exactly what the FDA has been dealing in — the use of overseas drugs for state-authorized suicide.

Regardless of the belittling, narrow-mindedness of some, inmates deserve to be treated humanely. Recently, the Supreme Court extended a reprieve to a former Army recruiter six hours before his execution was scheduled. The Supreme Court is reviewing his appeal in which he maintains his innocence surrounding the rape and murder of a Fort Worth woman in 2002.

The high court properly extended the man his constitutional right to a fair trial. I think the same should be done to those that are being executed. The Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment. The use of overseas drugs that were not intended for the general public and were only “expeditiously” reviewed by a public health organization not meant to handle these drugs constitutes such unusual — and potentially cruel — punishment.

This is not to start a debate on the propriety of capital punishment; that is a state decision. The FDA’s involvement with the state of Arizona perfectly illustrates that the federal government is getting involved. The rights of states are clear as is the purpose and role of the FDA. The FDA has no right to negotiate transactions of these drugs and should have never offered the “help” in these e-mails. Concerns of public health are the FDA’s job, and its recent history of major risk lead me to believe we shouldn’t put any more on the agency’s plate.

Nick Dean is a junior journalism and political science major from Austin and Editor-in-chief of the The Lariat.