IF OKLAHOMA prison authorities had been able to carry out Clayton Lockett’s execution using sodium thiopental, his death on April 29 would likely have been swift and relatively painless. The powerful sedative used to be part of the standard lethal-injection drug combination, but when its only American manufacturer stopped production in 2010, European governments barred pharmaceutical companies on the other side of the Atlantic from exporting sodium thiopental to the United States.
As the British business secretary, Vince Cable, made clear at the time, the point of the ban was to strike a moral pose. “This move underlines this government’s and my own personal moral opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances,” he said. The practical effect, however, has been to drive death-penalty states to devise new lethal injection protocols, sometimes with gruesome results.
Many Americans would say that Lockett’s prolonged death was no less than he deserved for the vicious murder of 18-year-old Stephanie Neiman in 1999. But justice for murder victims isn’t what the Europeans have in mind. They just want to demonstrate their antipathy to capital punishment. Refusing to sell the drugs that can make lethal injections the most humane form of execution enhances their self-image. It also turned Lockett’s death from a rapid act of euthanasia into a grimacing, teeth-clenching ordeal that finally ended with a heart attack after more than 40 minutes.
There is a lesson here about the unintended consequences of economic boycotts that backers of the fossil-fuel divestment movement would do well to contemplate.
On college campuses across the country, activists have been urging administrators to adopt “fossil-free” investment policies and rid their endowment funds of shares in coal, oil, and gas stocks. Last week, Stanford became the first major university to join the boycott, announcing its intention to stop investing in “companies whose principal business is the mining of coal.” Though Stanford’s endowment, about $19 billion, is substantial, its actual investments in coal stocks are minimal. Divesting them will have no real financial impact on either the university or the companies. But it strikes a moral pose, and adds to the pressure on other universities to do likewise.
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