Our Opinion: Misplaced bravado overlooks consequences

Don’t mistake bravado for good judgment.

Gov. Jay Nixon said he will not allow the European Union’s aversion to capital punishment to block use of a German-manufactured drug for upcoming Missouri executions.

Such swagger sounds bold, but let’s look at who will suffer collateral harm if this chain of events unfolds.

If the German-manufactured anesthetic, propofol, is used in scheduled lethal injections, the European Union has threatened to limit exports.

And if propofol — the gold standard in surgical anesthetics — is limited, the safety and comfort of patients will be compromised.

Nixon’s position also is shortsighted. Missouri has propofol dosages for only three executions. If supplies are curtailed, what happens after those are used?

Consequently, dismissing the European Union’s sentiments may facilitate three executions at the ongoing expense of surgical patients.

In this forum on Friday, we supported the concerns of the Missouri Society of Anesthesiologists (MSA), which asked the governor to avoid using propofol in executions.

The group’s reasoning was explained by its president, Dr. Larry Petersen, who said: “A shortage of this medication will take the medical specialty of anesthesiology back 20 years, leading to more complications in the operating room, an increased rate of nausea and vomiting after surgery, and extended time required to wake up from anesthesia after a procedure.”

We understand the alternatives are limited. Missouri law allows execution by two methods — a gas chamber and lethal injection.

The state does not operate a working gas chamber; the device at the former prison site has been relegated to a tourist attraction.

Concerning lethal injection, propofol has never been used in Missouri, although it has replaced a three-drug protocol used in previous executions.

Whether other drugs can be substituted or whether U.S. companies are poised to manufacture propofol are complex issues involving the pharmaceutical industry, the federal Food and Drug Administration and other business and regulatory interests.

In addition, use of any drug in executions invariably will be challenged in court, where some cases remain pending.

Like the MSA, we consider this a medical issue, not a political one.

We have no problem with capital punishment, when the justice system determines that circumstances warrant execution.

In present circumstances, however, we reiterate that we do not believe up to three executions warrants jeopardizing the safety and comfort of thousands of Missouri surgical patients.

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