German drug company faces involvement in US executions

June 8, 2012 – A German drug company, Fresenius Kabi, may become the prime supplier of execution drugs to US death rows following the move by the State of Missouri to use propofol in lethal injections last month.

The switch to propofol, which was announced by Missouri prison on the 17th May, is a response to the unavailability of the previously used execution drugs, sodium thiopental and pentobarbital. Other States, also unable to procure the old execution drugs, are now likely to follow suit.

Propofol, a widely used anaesthetic agent, is manufactured by two companies in the US: German pharmaceutical company, Fresenius Kabi (under the tradename, Diprivan), and Hospira. Ongoing problems at Hospira’s plant mean that Fresenius Kabi has been the principle supplier of the drug to the US for over 18 months.

Missouri was forced to change its protocol following action by European pharmaceutical manufacturer, Lundbeck, and the European Commission to prevent the use of European medicines in executions.

Reprieve is in dialogue with the CEO of Fresenius Kabi, Rainer Baule, on this issue. Reprieve worked closely with Lundbeck on the distribution controls put in place to prevent the use of Lundbeck’s pentobarbital in executions and propose that Fresenius Kabi take similar steps to prevent the use of their medicines in lethal injections in the US.

Reprieve is also in contact with the German government on this issue. The German government is vigorously opposed to capital punishment and has previously refused an official request from US authorities for sodium thiopental for use in executions.

Following the protocol change, Missouri DOC requested that execution dates be set for nine death row prisoners.

Maya Foa, Head of Reprieve’s Lethal Injection Project, says: “This is an extremely disturbing development for any pharmaceutical company, but particularly one based in Europe. Fresenius Kabi’s motto is ‘Caring For Life’; it would be disastrous for the company if involvement in executions were to make a mockery of this noble commitment. No one wants to see German drugs used to execute people. Fortunately for Fresenius, there are simple and effective ways that the company could prevent prisons from using their drugs in executions. Fresenius must act quickly, however, otherwise they risk becoming the primary facilitator of capital punishment in the USA.”

Notes:

* An article on US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke’s request for execution drugs from German Economics Minister Philipp Rösler can be found here: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/european-opposition-to-death-penalty-german-minister-denies-us-request-for-execution-drugs-a-767613.html

* Further information on Missouri’s new execution protocol – including the original text – can be found here: http://www.missourinet.com/2012/05/17/corrections-department-adopts-new-drug-for-lethal-injections

* Propofol is on the FDA’s list of current drug shortages: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/DrugShortages/ucm050792.htm

* Further information on the executions Missouri is scheduling can be found here: http://missourideathrow.com

* Reprieve recently issued a new film urging corporations to sign the ‘Pharmaceutical Hippocratic Oath’ and prevent their drugs being used to kill: http://reprieve.org.uk/press/2012_05_17_film_slip_pharma_hippo_oath

* Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’Source

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