The same anesthetic that caused Michael Jackson's overdose death is now the drug of choice for executions in Missouri, causing a stir among critics who question how the state can guarantee a drug untested for lethal injection won't cause pain and suffering for the condemned. Last week the Missouri Department of Corrections announced it was switching from its longstanding three-drug method to a single drug, propofol. Missouri would be the first state ever to use propofol as an execution drug.
Missouri said the decision was "due to the unavailability of sodium thiopental" but did not elaborate on why propofol was chosen; the change did not require legislative approval. It wasn't clear when propofol would get its first use in a Missouri execution, as none are scheduled for the 19 condemned men whose appeals have run out. An Ohio State University surgeon who has studied lethal injection extensively said high doses of propofol will kill by causing respiratory arrest, but the dosage must be accurate and the process must move swiftly because propofol typically wears off in just a few minutes. "If they start breathing before the heart stops, they might not die," forcing the process to be restarted. (Read more Propofol stories.)