Pfizer takes ‘significant’ move to restrict lethal injection drugs

New York-based Pfizer will restrict the use of its products in lethal injections in the US.
New York-based Pfizer will restrict the use of its products in lethal injections in the US.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A decision by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to restrict the distribution of its products used in lethal injections has cut off the last remaining approved source of drugs used to carry out the death penalty, experts said.

Capital punishment observers on Saturday hailed the move by New York-based Pfizer as “significant,” noting that it highlights the pharmaceutical industry’s opposition to the misuse of its products.

Pfizer said in a statement on its website that its mission includes making products to enhance and save lives, and therefore the company “strongly objects” to the use of its products in lethal injections.

The statement was posted Friday, according to various US media outlets including The New York Times.

Specifically, Pfizer said it was imposing restrictions on wholesalers, distributors and direct purchasers of seven drugs that are used or considered for use in lethal injection protocols, barring these buyers from reselling them to correctional institutions for lethal injections.

Government purchasers must certify that the products will only be used for “medically prescribed patient care,” the company said.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre, called the move “significant.”

“It’s offensive to the medical mission of the pharmaceutical companies when states misuse these medications which are designed to save lives and improve the quality of lives by instead using them to kill prisoners,” he told AFP.

Maya Foa, director of anti-death penalty group Reprieve, said that now more than 25 pharmaceutical companies have made moves to block the use of their products in executions.

“This will mean that all FDA-approved manufacturers of all execution drugs have spoken out against the misuse of medicines in lethal injections and taken steps to prevent it,” she said in a statement.

The United States stands alone among Western nations for its use of the death penalty, but the number of prisoners it executes has slowed to a trickle in recent years – partly due to a lack of drugs.

In 2015, there were 28 executions carried out among the 31 US states with the death penalty.

It was the lowest number of executions since 1991 when 98 inmates were executed.

Part of that was due to a European export ban that stopped pharmaceutical companies producing the drugs from sending them to US prisons.

Prisons generally use a cocktail of three drugs in carrying out lethal injections. One knocks the condemned unconscious, another paralyzes muscles and a third stops the heart.

Some of the lethal injection executions carried out since 2014 have been widely criticized after they made prisoners die slowly while gasping, groaning and convulsing.