Pennsylvania’s last execution was in 1999.
Convicted killer Gary Heindik was put to death after he decided to end his appeals.
Since the commonwealth’s death penalty was restored in the 1970s, only three people have been executed in Pennsylvania. They all asked their attorneys to stop the appeals process — effectively making the death penalty here a form of assisted suicide.
When and if people are executed in Pennsylvania, it is done by lethal injection — the typical practice in the United States. A combination of drugs is administered to the convict that produces sleep and then stops the heart.
This method of execution is deemed more humane and painless than earlier forms, such as hanging, firing squad or electric chair.
But there have been incidents where lethal injection executions in other states have not gone according to plan. And the condemned appear to suffer.
These incidents have coincided with changes in the availability of the drugs used for executions. Facing criticism for promoting death, pharmaceutical companies have stopped providing these chemicals to states for executions.
So states intent on pursuing executions via lethal injection have taken to concealing the sources for their drugs. This has led to questions about the quality of the substances used.
There is no evidence to date that faulty drugs have made a mess of executions. Then again, the curtain of secrecy that now hangs over these substances makes it unclear if the full story is being told.
Here in Pennsylvania, four news organizations went to federal court last week, seeking access to information about the sources of Pennsylvania’s execution drugs.
Despite a recent revision to Pennsylvania’s open records law, the commonwealth is concealing this information. Government records in Pennsylvania are now supposed to be public unless there is a compelling reason for keeping them confidential.
That apparently includes the source of execution drugs. The commonwealth claims the provider of the drugs wants to remain secret and if identified, the firm will halt delivery of its product.
Perhaps you don’t care where these drugs come from and whether or not they are safe. Convicted killers aren’t a particularly sympathetic lot, so those views are understandable.
But government secrecy has a habit of spreading. Citizens should always demand openness and accountability from government as a matter of fundamental policy.
Do you really want a system where government information is concealed based on little more than a whim on the part of a private business? If that is the standard, be prepared for all sorts of new secrecy to come down the pike.
Here’s a better alternative: Be open with public information and let the chips fall where they may.