Doctors call for end to supply of execution drugs

By agency reporter
January 6, 2012

A coalition of medical professionals from around the world has today (6 January 2012) called on the pharmaceuticals company Hospira to prevent their products from being used in US executions.

The legal charity Reprieve reports that Hospira is the sole supplier to the US of pancuronium bromide, a paralysing agent used as the second part of a three-drug ‘cocktail’ by most states which carry out lethal injections.

In an open letter to Hospira’s Chief Executive, published in the Lancet, the doctors warn of the very real possibility that the use of pancuronium could result in “extreme pain and suffering” for the prisoner, and emphasise that “no responsible pharmaceutical company should have anything to do with executions.”

They call on Hospira to put in place a restricted distribution system – following the example of another pharmaceutical company, Lundbeck – which would prevent the drugs from being used in execution chambers, whilst ensuring that they continue to reach legitimate medical users.

The letter concludes: “As your own code of business conduct states, Hospira has an ‘ethical compass’ to ‘accept the responsibility of being an ethical global citizen’. It is time for Hospira to live up to those fine words, without affecting patients’ care, by putting in place a restricted distribution system for pancuronium.”

Dr David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at City Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham and a signatory to the letter, said: “Although we all want to see pancuronium available for legitimate clinical use, it is disappointing to see that, to date, Hospira have not used the experience of other manufacturers to effectively block the use of their drug in executions. Hospira have yet to show the leadership and willingness to take action that other drug companies, such as Lundbeck, have managed to take by the use of a restricted distribution system."

He continued, "I would be intrigued to know how many ill US inmates, who are not on death row, have had pancuronium as it is a very potent drug that should only be used in a critical care setting by a certified anaesthetist (or anaesthesologist if in the US). There is thus no legitimate use for clinical care that I am aware of in a US prison.”


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