Strategy, Leadership & Development

Corporate Power: The Death of Capital Punishment?

6 months ago


Corporate Power: The Death of Capital Punishment?

I know, capital punishment is a bit hard-hitting compared to the usual topics I write about.

However, the recent execution of 83 year old Walter Moody got me thinking about it. What kind of society can justify putting an 83 year old to death for crimes committed in 1989?

It’s an odd system to put it mildly.

Now, it probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I oppose the death penalty, but this article won’t touch on that. Primarily, because the majority of my reasons are summed up perfectly here.

What I want to explore is how corporations are influencing the future of the death penalty, and whether it’s actually helping.

Capital Punishment | Jason Wicks

Capital Punishment

As has been the case since 1990, the primary method of execution in the U.S. is the lethal injection. Traditionally, this injection includes a chemical ‘cocktail’ of three individual drugs, which are:

  • Midazolam – Works as an anesthetic.
  • Vecuronium bromide – Causes paralysis.
  • Potassium chloride – Stops the heart.

Interestingly, but not actually surprisingly, all three of these drugs have legitimate medical uses. Midazolam makes people drowsy before surgery. Vecuronium bromide relaxes spinal muscles and it used during surgery. Potassium chloride treats low potassium levels in the blood.

However, if you put them all together with a strong enough dose, it’s literally lethal (hence the name).

In theory, executing somebody then becomes pretty simple. Or does it?

Drug Availability

The thing is, corrections facilities still need to go out an actually buy the drugs. They need to go to pharmaceutical companies and place their order. In recent years, this has become extremely difficult.

After all, pharmaceutical companies aim to make money by saving people’s lives, not ending them. As a result, all 25 FDA approved pharmaceutical companies have blocked the use of their drugs for executions, the latest being Pfizer in 2016.

Of course, I’m tempted to laud this as an example of great CSR, but it’s clearly far bigger than that. These companies cannot afford to have their reputation damaged with links to executions. They also probably don’t want to advertise that too much of their drugs will kill you.

What this has therefore created, is a massive availability issue all across the U.S.

Combine that with an extremely lengthy appeals process, and it’s no surprise that most inmates just spend decades on death row. In fact, since 1973, only 16% of people sentenced to death have actually been executed. 

Capital Punishment | Jason Wicks

What Does This Mean?

In theory, this should make it incredibly difficult for states to execute people.

Considering approval of capital punishment recently fell below 50% for the first time in nearly 50 years, this could be a monumental turning point. States will now have to go out of their way to execute somebody, which they now have far less of an incentive to do. In theory, capital punishment should soon be a thing of the past.

So what’s the catch?

A Broken Incentive

I mentioned the idea of a broken incentive in my recent sugar tax article.

What I mean by this phrase is that individuals, companies, or governments suddenly gain an incentive to do the morally ‘wrong’ thing. Unfortunately, this provides a classic example.

With availability of drugs now so restricted, many state prisons have intentionally deceived pharmaceutical companies in order to obtain them.

In 2011, Texas claimed to need drugs for a medical facility that no longer existed.

Just last year, drugs company McKesson became the first company to sue a dealth penalty state when they sued Arkansas for misuse and deceptive purchasing. 

However, the problem is far worse than just lying. In 2014, Ohio executed somebody using an untested and untried drug combination. It took 25 minutes to kill Dennis McGuire and he was reported to have gasped for air several time in the process. Amazingly, this was approved by the Ohio court, with the state prosecutor claiming “you’re not entitled to a pain-free execution”.

If that still isn’t bad enough, some states might be turning to the electric chair for capital punishment, if drugs remain unavailable. Last month, the South Carolina senate voted in favour of the electric chair, as they have been unable to perform executions since their lethal injection drugs expired in 2013. Likewise, Tennessee faces a similar possibility.

Capital Punishment: Electric Chair | Jason Wicks

The Solution?

In an ideal world, the restricted availability of drugs should be the final nail in the coffin for capital punishment.

However, that clearly isn’t going to happen overnight. My only hope is that, at a time of low approval ratings, states that consider the electric chair will be met with sufficient public backlash. It’s only when companies and members of the public work together, that things might change. For now, that might mean enduring some morally questionable activities.

But soon, it might just mean the end of capital punishment.

For good.


  • Lethal injection is the most common method of capital punishment.
  • Pharmaceutical companies have blocked the use of their drugs for executions.
  • That’s leading to some States being deceptive and/or seeking alternative methods.
  • With public approval at a 50 year low, this could be a huge turning point.

Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.

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