Lethal injection is the principal method of execution in the United States and is used by 37 of the 38 death penalty states. (Nebraska uses electrocution.)
The common combination of drugs used by almost all these states is sodium pentothal (an anesthetic, also called Thiopental sodium), pancuronium bromide (a paralytic agent, also called Pavulon), and potassium chloride (which stops the heart and causes death).
There is growing concern over the use of pancuronium bromide which is thought to cause paralysis preventing the victim from communicating pain which may result from the subsequent dose of potassium chloride.
Painful, lengthy executions violate the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
The legal action charity Reprieve has today (26 March) launched a campaign calling on pharmaceutical companies to sign a ‘Pharmaceutical Hippocratic oath’ under which they would pledge not to become involved in executions by lethal injection.
The oath is worded as follows: “We dedicate our work to developing and distributing pharmaceuticals to the service of humanity; we will practice our profession with conscience and dignity; the right to health of the patient will be our first consideration; we condemn the use of any of our pharmaceuticals in the execution of human beings.”
Reprieve's investigator Maya Foa said: “No company which supports executions by lethal injection can claim to be ethical. By signing up to this pledge, pharmaceutical firms can make their position clear, and avoid becoming involved in this grisly business."
Reprieve is also renewing its call for the pharmaceutical company Hospira to ensure that pancuronium bromide can only be supplied for legitimate medical use. Hospira remains the only supplier of this drug to US execution chambers.