House Democrats will investigate the Trump administration’s decision to resume federal executions and to use a single drug with a history of problems to carry them out, reports Courthouse News Service. Until 2009, lethal injection was predominantly administered in the U.S. in the form of a cocktail containing three drugs: the sedative sodium thinopental, a paralytic agent called pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, a drug that stops the heart and causes death. Drug shortages have led states like Texas and Georgia to opt for a single-drug injection using pentobarbital, a drug that slows brain activity and collapses the nervous system.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld states’ rights to use pentobarbital, though its use in some executions has resulted in prisoners experiencing pain, describing the sensation of “burning” through their body in the moments before death. The Justice Department’s decision last month to resume federal executions and switch to a pentobarbital-only method led Democrats on the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to announce their investigation Wednesday. Questions swirl around the efficacy of the single-drug injection, said subcommittee Chairman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and and member Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). “We are extremely concerned about the types of facilities from which the Bureau [of Prisons] will obtain its pentobarbital, whether the Bureau will be able to guarantee that its intended method of execution is as painless as possible and whether the Bureau will be subject to rigorous protocols to prevent the problems that occurred at the state level,” they said. The last federal execution took place in 2003. Federal executions expected under the revised order may start this December. The men set to be executed include convicted murderers Daniel Lewis Lee, Alfred Bourgeois, Dustin Lee Honken, Wesley Ira Purkey and Lezmond Mitchell.