Oklahoma will argue in court next week that a drug used to euthanize animals can also be used to execute death row inmates amid a nationwide shortage of an anesthetic used in executions, reports the Wall Street Journal. It is one of a number of states scrambling to find the drugs needed to perform capital punishment because of to a shortage of thiopental sodium, the only anesthetic that states have so far used in lethal injections.
States tend to adopt the death-row methods used by other states, so the Oklahoma court decision could have an impact elsewhere. Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. maker of thiopental, has ceased production of the drug until 2011, citing a shortage in one of thiopental’s raw ingredients. Oklahoma, which is scheduled to execute John David Duty on Dec. 16, said that veterinarians regard pentobarbital, which it is proposing as a substitute anesthetic for death row inmates, “as an ideal anesthetic agent for humane euthanasia in animals,” that is “substantially” similar to thiopental. If approved, pentobarbital could be a new standard for lethal injections. Attorneys for Duty, who was sentenced to death for murdering a cellmate, have said they didn’t want their client to be a guinea pig for pentobarbital.