Nearly surrounded by states that wisely have scrapped the death penalty - and with ample concerns already raised about the fairness and risk for error in sentencing defendants to death row - Pennsylvania has encountered another compelling reason to join its progressive neighbors.
The inability of state prison officials to acquire lethal-injection drugs last week prompted Gov. Corbett to temporarily stay the execution of Hubert L. Michael Jr., the confessed murderer of a York County teenager two decades ago.
Far from being a question of merely finding a drugstore that carries the fatal cocktail that has been used ever since the electric chair was outlawed as cruel and unusual punishment, there is no current supplier of a key drug.
In large part, that's due to growing controversy over botched executions such as one in Oklahoma in April, where a condemned man convulsed for nearly 45 minutes before dying.
Legal advocates for death-row inmates rightly are focusing on whether such executions violate constitutional standards barring such punishment. But while those challenges work their way through the courts, it's clear that such mundane - if macabre - practicalities in operating the machinery of death ramps up what might be called the hassle factor in maintaining a system of capital punishment.
It's already well-established that death row is inordinately more expensive than the more reasonable alternative of sentencing the worst criminals to life in prison without parole. The cost of interminable appeals, much of it borne by taxpayers on behalf of indigent defendants, runs into the millions for every death-penalty case.
That applies even in those rare instances where inmates eventually halt all appeals. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley cited these costs, along with ample evidence that the death penalty serves as no deterrent, when his state joined New Jersey and New York in outlawing executions.
Beyond the expense, especially in Pennsylvania, is the risk for error, and the stark statistics that defendants who are poor and black or brown stand the best chance of being sent to death row. The state has has seen dozens and dozens of inmates reprieved from death row by virtue of appeals concerning their legal representation or, though more rare, new evidence exonerating them.
As a result of the many doubts about the fairness of the death penalty, a bipartisan legislative panel has been reviewing the state's capital punishment system. Its leaders have urged that no executions occur until their report is ready - a sensible plea that so far has fallen on deaf ears in Harrisburg.
Fortunately, however, the logistical problems in carrying out lethal injections offer another chance for state leaders to do the right thing. That is, to enact a moratorium on executions, and continue the careful review that should make an ironclad case for outlawing capital punishment in Pennsylvania.