Mike DeWine describes the situation as “very, very difficult.” Ohio law requires executions to be conducted by lethal injection. Yet the state is struggling to acquire the necessary combination of drugs to put a prisoner to death. As a result, on Wednesday, the governor delayed the execution of Warren Henness for the second time, moving the date from September to May of next year. The thinking is the state needs time to find a way out of its dilemma.

Ideally, that evaluation would lead to ending the death penalty, or at least going back to where the state stood for three years starting in 2014 — observing a moratorium, essentially, no executions taking place.

That moratorium followed the troubled execution of Dennis McGuire, the procedure taking longer than expected, the prisoner gasping for air. The problem with the protocol has been the drug midazolam, a sedative, most recently part of a three-drug combination in executions. Though the state resumed executions in 2017, it ran into the ruling of a federal magistrate judge late last year. He found midazolam can fall short in performing its task.

The sedative is supposed to put the prisoner in position for the painless application of a paralytic and then potassium chloride to stop the heart. Expert testimony made clear that midazolam is not strong enough. More, as the experts explained and the magistrate judge stressed in his ruling, when delivered in a massive dose, the drug can trigger fluid filling the lungs, the prisoner experiencing a sensation of drowning, akin to “waterboarding,” or torture.

The governor responded to the ruling by delaying the Henness execution the first time and for three other prisoners. He argued that “Ohio is not going to execute someone under my watch when a federal judge has found it to be cruel and unusual punishment.”

DeWine directed the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to assess the death penalty protocol and examine how to go forward with a different combination of drugs. In seeking those alternative drugs, the state has encountered barriers.

The lethal-injection process went according to plan for two decades because the state could access pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate. That access disappeared some six years ago when European drugmakers balked at the use in executions. Now the concern has expanded. As the governor reported, drug companies are warning the state: Use our drugs in lethal injections, and we will discontinue sales to the state altogether. That would deprive many Ohioans of medicines they need, putting their health “in peril,” in the governor’s words.

As the Columbus Dispatch reported, the state has been buying the protocol drugs through the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and then driving them to the execution chamber at the prison near Lucasville.

That kind of subterfuge reflects the deepening flaws in the death penalty, including the racial bias and steep financial cost. The governor and other officials have raised the prospect of exploring alternatives, perhaps returning to the electric chair. Recall that the state chose lethal injection as a more humane approach. Now go back to something deemed too cruel?

The options are narrowing to the extent that it is time to acknowledge life in prison without the possibility of parole is severe enough punishment, even for the worst of the worst. It comes minus the many complications, including one cited by conservative critics, that governments will err, meaning the odds are the state will kill an innocent man or woman. Since 1973, nine men on Ohio’s death row have been exonerated and freed. They speak to a risk the state doesn’t need to take.