Over the past year, Attorney General Mark Brnovich has pushed Gov. Doug Ducey to restart death row executions using lethal injection drugs. But there’s a glaring problem: There is no legal way for Arizona to do so.
First, health care companies have contracts in place with their business partners that specifically prevent their medicines from being used for lethal purposes. Second, Brnovich’s proposal that the state use a compound pharmacy is also unlawful.
Even if there were a legal way to pursue lethal injection executions in Arizona, policymakers need to understand that pursuing it would undermine public health and endanger innocent citizens of the state, as well as undermine the conservative principles of the right to life and the free market.
Doctors can’t prescribe drugs for death
Many see executions as a necessary part of serving justice — but most would agree that if executions are carried out, they should be done lawfully and responsibly. This is impossible when lethal injection drugs are involved. Lethal injection puts Arizona on a dangerous course away from core conservative values, and into unsafe and unlawful territory.
First, on the legality of acquiring drugs for lethal injection: Buying these products for executions would not only require the government to circumvent existing contracts, but would undermine our free market right to choose with whom and how to do business.
Brnovich has proposed Arizona use a compounding pharmacy to prepare its drugs. But under both Arizona and federal law, compounding pharmacies need a prescription from a medical provider to dispense the drugs called for in Arizona’s execution protocol.
Yet it is illegal for a medical provider to write a prescription for an execution drug, because the law requires that they only prescribe drugs for medicinal or therapeutic purposes.
Someone would have to break the law
If the government restarts lethal injection executions, it has two choices, both of which involve breaking the law: (1) Ask a compounding pharmacy to dispense the drug without a prescription — a Class 4 felony in Arizona; or (2) Ask a medical professional to write a fraudulent prescription on an inmate’s behalf.
And this is just one issue. If Arizona continues down this path, it’ll also be putting the lives of Arizona citizens at risk. The state’s plans involve enlisting unknown entities to procure controlled substances in secret, potentially contaminating the medical supply chain or causing dangerous shortages of prescription drugs.
This is why conservative governors have been moving away from lethal injection altogether. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is a great example. He cited public health concerns multiple times in his decision to put executions on hold.
Executions clash with conservative ideals
Conservative policymakers should consider not only the lawfulness of this proposal and risks to public health, but also how these executions stack up against the conservative ideal of limited government. Since it is not possible to acquire lethal injection drugs lawfully, if the government forges ahead, it will break its own laws.
Governments that cherry pick which laws to follow are by definition no longer limited governments. Placing itself above the law sets a dangerous precedent for the Arizona government — one that should be avoided.
Resuming executions by lethal injection is just not feasible in Arizona. Safe, quality drugs cannot be lawfully obtained, and the government should not break its own rules to put patients in harm’s way by pushing ahead with executions.
To allow the government to press forward would be to forsake the key concepts of authority and accountability that conservative policymakers hold so dear.