New US execution method threatens hospital supplies

By agency reporter
May 26, 2012

The US state of Missouri has announced a new execution method which will see a medicine badly needed by US hospitals being used to kill prisoners.

The state has set out plans to use propofol, an anaesthetic which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned is in short supply, for future executions by lethal injection.

Missouri had until now used the three-drug execution ‘cocktail’ favoured by most states which carry out capital punishment.

It is not yet clear how much propofol (also known as Diprivan) the state has bought up, but Missouri is understood to be planning nine executions just days after announcing the new execution protocol.

The legal action charity Reprieve is now calling on all manufacturers of propofol - notably European firms such as Fresenius Kabi - to put in place the controls needed to ensure their product only reaches legitimate medical users. Should they fail to do so, says Reprieve, not only will their drugs be used to kill, but they will be diverted away from life-saving applications in US hospitals at a time of serious need.

Reprieve recently launched the ‘Pharmaceutical Hippocratic Oath,’ under which companies pledge to avoid becoming embroiled in the execution process, and take action to prevent supplies of their medicines being diverted to execution chambers. The pharmaceutical company Lundbeck last year took steps which ensured that their products could not be used by executioners, but continued to reach legitimate medical users.

Reprieve investigator Maya Foa said: “This is an extremely disturbing development. The US Food and Drug Administration is reporting shortages of this life-saving drug. Whatever your views on the death penalty, it cannot be right that prisons like Missouri’s should be allowed to stockpile vital medicines at the expense of doctors and patients. Pharmaceutical companies and doctors must unite in opposition to this appalling abuse of medicines. There are steps that can be taken. Now is the time to act, and act fast.”


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