Jan 01, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Natalie Dicou

Lethal injection: It’s a hot-button issue with strong opinions on both sides. University of Utah College of Pharmacy professor Jim Ruble, PharmD, JD, provided a pharmacist’s perspective Wednesday in a presentation at the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

The first speaker in the new Outstanding Professor series, Ruble discussed the history of capital punishment — from stonings and crucifixions to firing squads and the electric chair. Modern-day lethal injection originated in 1977 and is by far the most popular form of capital punishment in the U.S. where executions are legal in 32 states, federal courts and the military.

Ruble, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy, didn’t share his personal opinion, preferring to stick to facts and data. He encouraged students to form their own viewpoints and get involved — no matter where they land on the topic.

“Advocate for. Advocate against. Raise your voice,” said Ruble, who is both a pharmacist and attorney but his favorite title is educator. “Contribute to the dialogue.”

In his presentation “Pharmacy and the Continuum of Lethal Injection,” Ruble discussed key legal cases that have affected capital punishment throughout the years including Furman v. Georgia, which initiated a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty in 1972 and Gregg v. Georgia, which reinstated it four years later.

He gave a roundup of recent law changes throughout the country. In 2009, New Mexico outlawed the death penalty; Illinois did it in 2011; Connecticut in 2012 and Maryland in 2013. With 516 executions between 1977 and Sept. 2014, Texas has executed nearly five times more people during that span than second-place Oklahoma with 110.

Ruble provided details about “botched” executions, such as the 2014 lethal injection of Clayton Lockett who shot and buried alive Stephanie Neiman in Oklahoma in 1999. Given a combination of midazolam, vecuronium and potassium, Lockett groaned and convulsed for 43 minutes before dying.

Ruble said he’s heard compelling arguments on both sides. As society members, he believes we are all responsible for deeply contemplating the issue and asking ourselves “What objective are we trying to achieve by taking their life away?”

Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Kirk Jowers, J.D., said Ruble was chosen to be the first “Outstanding Professor” because of his teaching record and national research prominence. Plus, with the state legislature mulling a bill that would put firing-squad executions back on the table in Utah, the timing was perfect to address this subject in depth.

Jowers sees the Outstanding Professor series as an opportunity for faculty to share their expertise in a variety of disciplines in the Hinckley Institute’s public forum.

“It’s very easy in such a large, prestigious campus to get so focused on your own people and your own interests that you have no idea a quarter-mile away you have a world expert who’s fascinating in another subject,” Jowers said.

Next up? None other than Mario Capecchi. His presentation is set for March 9 at noon in the Hinckley Caucus Room. 

Natalie Dicou

Natalie Dicou is an Associate in the Office of Public Affairs for University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter @NatalieDicou.

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