A German drug company, Fresenius Kabi, may become the prime supplier of execution drugs to US death rows following the decision taken last month by the State of Missouri to use propofol in lethal injections.
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.
The legal charity 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 andare proposing that Fresenius Kabi take similar steps to prevent the use of their medicines for lethal injections in the US.
Reprieve is also in contact with the German government which 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 Department of Corrections requested that execution dates be set for nine death row prisoners.
Maya Foa, Head of Reprieve's Lethal Injection Project, said: "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."
She concluded: "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."