The European nation of Denmark is about to embark on executions in a big way. Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck has sold pentobarbital to four of the most prolific executing states in the U.S.: Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas. These states already have, and will continue to use Lundbeck’s product for executions. Pentobarbital is emerging as the replacement for sodium thiopental, which was once the drug used in all lethal injections in the U.S., but now has become increasingly hard to get.
Campaigners in Europe have attempted to convince Lundbeck to prevent the drug from winding up in U.S. execution facilities. Lundbeck has objected, verbally, to the use of its product in executions, telling the New York Times “This is fully against what we stand for. We are in the business of improving people’s lives.” But so far Lundbeck has not taken any effective action.
Campaigns to limit exports of sodium thiopental, the drug pentobarbital is replacing, have been successful, albeit after several states already acquired a supply (one state, Georgia, has had its supply confiscated by the DEA). The UK has banned the drug’s export to the U.S. for executions, and an Italian factory ceased production of the drug entirely. Governments in Austria and Germany have preemptively warned pharmaceutical companies in their respective countries not to allow sodium thiopental to be exported to the U.S. for executions.
It remains to be seen if Denmark and Lundbeck will ultimately restrict the export of pentobarbital.
Sodium thiopental is a general anesthetic used in surgical procedures. Pentobarbital is used for controlling epilepsy. Life-saving, life-improving drugs, in both cases. Restricting their availability will do harm to the quality of legitimate health care in the U.S.
I’ve written before about the degrading nature of the death penalty; about how deliberately killing human beings violates our most basic values and thus degrades and damages everyone involved. That ordinary Americans in need of medical care might suffer because some states insist on killing prisoners is yet more evidence of that.