Do Foreigners Control Whether or Not America Executes People?

Americans are alone among industrialized Western countries in executing people as a punishment. We keep company with nations including Libya, North Korea and Pakistan on this issue. Our peers have long condemned us, but now they are taking things a step further: foreign governments and companies are actively preventing American states from executing condemned prisoners.

The method of choice for American executions is injection with a lethal cocktail of drugs designed to anesthetize and then kill convicts. Some of these drugs aren’t manufactured in the U.S.: the one American company that used to make one of the drugs, Hospira, quit production in part to get out of the death penalty business. The foreign companies that still make the drugs are starting to balk at supplying them to American prisons. Companies in European Union countries can’t export these drugs because of a European Commission ban. Asian companies have stopped selling lethal injection drugs to the United States for ethical reasons.

Remarkably, by withholding their products, foreign corporations are effectively overruling American states’ death penalty laws.

The number of executions in the United States is dropping, as Aviva Shen of ThinkProgress writes. In California, North Carolina, and Arkansas, there have been no executions in the last seven years because of the drug shortage. Ohio, Georgia and Texas have taken matters into their own hands by replacing the unavailable drugs with others that have not been tested or approved, a move that could bring judicial scrutiny and delayed executions. Missouri is eyeing bringing back gas chambers.

This is basically a corporate boycott of the United States, at least in Asia. In Europe it is political. Many nations that do not execute criminals have made it part of their foreign policy agendas to abolish the death penalty in other countries, so it should not be a surprise that they have started chipping away at it.

Yet parts of the American government still believe the U.S. is immune to other countries’ wills. They favor isolationism, thinking that it is entirely up to us whether to engage with the rest of the world. As John K. Glenn writes for CNN, this idea is in the ascendancy on both sides of the political aisle.

Republicans like Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are betting their presidential aspirations on it. Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik released a memo identifying “pull back from the rest of the world” as the No. 1 area of consensus across the political spectrum ahead of the 2014 elections.

Glenn suggests that Americans want to do something to protect ourselves from violent foreign radicals, but protecting ourselves from the influence of foreign morals and corporate control doesn’t appear on the radar screen.

New perspectives on perennially contentious issues like the death penalty may help broaden debate — I’m opposed to the death penalty myself and happy to hear more voices against it — but manipulation by outsiders is not welcome. The U.S. has its own political system. It is controlled by money and increasingly ineffective, yes, but I doubt that many Americans would choose to hand the reins over to a foreign company rather than continue trying to fix it.

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Photo credit: Ken Piorkowski


Debb R.
Debb R.4 years ago

Forgein drug companies no longer supplying the drugs used are in no way "effectively overruling American states’ death penalty laws." They are simply deciding not to participate in any form in the death penalty. And they are perfectly within their rights to do so. I am sure America can create those, or similar drugs, themselves.

America, and Britain, expect the rest of the world to bend to their demands, to change their cultures and ways to suit what the US sees as morally correct. They expect other countries to be run as the US sees fit, and often by who the US wants. They go to war, or put trade embargos on countries that do not do do as they're told, or are not run as they wish (despite the US being guilty of those self same "sins" - apartheid, segregation)

And then they are shocked when other countries and upset when other countries try and have a say in how the US is run, or won't sell them certain items any longer - for whatever reason.

As for the death penalty drugs - if a country that has gotten rid of the death penalty for moral reasons continues to sell the drugs needed to another country - well that makes them nothing but hypocrites.

Samantha Richardson

America likes to think that it can do whatever it likes because it has such a powerhouse economy, but it's quite refreshing and satisfying to hear that they bend, however involuntarily, to the rest of the world refusing to promote institutionalised murder.

Let America pull back from the rest of the world, I say. We'll see how far it gets them.

Josephine T.
Josephine T4 years ago

Tom E. - please remember that not everyone in the US is a Christian, and the country's founding fathers, recognizing this, took pains to assure that our country's laws were set up as secular - laws governing mankind, with no specific religious overtones. Those old guys knew what they were doing - perhaps we should return to those roots, instead of attempting to inflict one particular religious morality upon everyone. In this regard, one "size" most certainly does *not* fit all.

That said - there are too many people on death row. To my taste, the criteria should be as follows: 1) the crime has to be particularly heinous (serial killer, as an example) and 2) absolute incontrovertible proof at the time of trial. If there is any doubt, then life in prison, not the death penalty.

Tom Edgar
Tom Edgar4 years ago

There two very inmportant points arising from submissions. The first being the abhorrent and, to my mind, certainly non Christian attitude, that the important thing is the cost factor of incarceration versus ending the life of the criminal. What level of morality equates the correctness of taking the life, or not, of a prisoner based on the financial burden to the community?

Secondly... When, and it happens too frequently, the previously found guilty person is later proven innocent, you can release them, if still alive. Sadly there is no Lazarus moment for the Judicially Murdered.

As I said previously there are occasions when one is so profoundly moved by the inhumanity to others that even I could be persuaded to think otherwise. As a W W 2 participant I fail to see how war can make one believe in the Justice of Capital Punishment. Many of the Third Reich leaders lost their lives for their actions in W W 2. Pol Pot died of natural causes never even charged. The same could, with justification, be said of those who led us into Vietnam on specious grounds and they never faced even a charge. The British air raid on Dresden was a war crime and "Bomber Harris" the man responsible died in bed. Winston Churchill's infamous Black and Tans perpetrated some of the worst atrocities in Ireland in the early 1900s, neither he nor any others have ever been tried. I could go on for pages proving that justice is rarely applied to the victor. Until anybody can prove to me that th

Jess No Fwd Plz K.
Jessica K4 years ago

If companies don't want to sell the drugs to the US or their countries' laws are preventing them from doing so, I don't see what the problem is. The US and the rest of the industrialized world have been at odds on this issue for years, and it's up to their respective governments to handle the issue as they see fit. Thanks.

Meta Reid
Meta Reid4 years ago

When the house and senate over rode a presidential veto and decided that South Africa shouldn't be traded with because of their policy of apartheid everyone applauded. I, in turn, applaud the countries that won't supply the drugs. It's good to have friends that give appropriate feedback on policy.

J C Bro
J C Brou4 years ago

think about the consequences. its better that the people take to the streets about the death penalty

Linda McKellar
Past Member 4 years ago

Tom - I think that I, in common with but obviously to a lesser degree than Wanda's experiences, have seen things that have changed our lives. Hers was in war. Mine was dealing with murder victims, including children & terrible abuses. Humans can be just plain EVIL. I did have a close connection to one of the cases I mentioned both through my job & association with police. When one sees pure evil, one cannot help but be repulsed. It changes your views on some of humanity to realize what people can do to others & do so with no conscience or remorse.

Tom Edgar
Tom Edgar4 years ago

I will preface this with. There are times when even I waver from No Judicial Murder. Yes,there are occasions when the crimes are horrific, especially when children are the victims. I have never condoned nor sought a justification for a crime but Judicial Murder is still exactly that. It lowers the legal system to the same level and for just as immoral a reason. Revenge. Even worse is that the person deciding the death of another human will abrogate that action to another unknown individual who will be a paid killer.

To me it is significant that the examples I made of two, out of thousands, of individual cases of wrongful conviction were ignored in favour of justifying the extermination of, undoubtedly evil, people. One has only to look back at the conviction and a lifetime of imprisonment of innocent Irishmen, (Birmingham 6) by the British Government until they were forced to set them free when incontrovertible evidence proved the Police officers involved contrived a conviction on false evidence. One poor man never made it back to the outside as he died in prison. The Police have never even been disciplined.

Yes men like the Kray Bothers, Haigh, and so many others are beyond redemption and should never see freedom again. Wrongful convictions alone, regardless of the evidence, must surely stay the hand of those believing in Justice. The Dreyfus case at the turn of the century is classical, where a man's political and religious affiliation was more on trial

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia4 years ago

Dale: Thanks for your response!