Reprieve’s Stop the Lethal Injection Project was set up in 2010 to help pharmaceutical manufacturers prevent their drugs from being used in executions in the USA.
Shortages of key lethal injection drugs had led to certain States seeking supplies of these drugs internationally, from Europe and elsewhere. The drug manufacturers were dismayed that their products – which they had designed to improve and save lives – were being used in the US in executions designed to end lives.
Reprieve works closely with these manufacturers and with governments to prevent this abuse of medicines in executions. For example, in November 2010, an export control was put in place on the export of lethal injection drugs from the UK to the US to protect British pharmaceutical manufacturers from this abuse, and in December 2011, the European Commission enacted similar legislation to prevent exports of lethal injection drugs from the whole of Europe to the US for use in executions.
Find out more:
- Ethical leadership in the pharmaceutical industry
- Sign the Pharmaceutical Hippocratic Oath
- Stop the Lethal Injection Project (SLIP) Timeline
What's wrong with the lethal injection?
There are a great many myths surrounding the death penalty, and some of the most pervasive and powerful relate to the use of the lethal injection as a method of execution. It is regarded by many as the safest and most humane method of killing a person. It is neither safe nor humane – quite the reverse.
Even the Supreme Court of the Unites States of America has acknowledged that the potential for torture – should the first stage in the lethal injection process fail – is unacceptably high:
“It is uncontested that, failing a proper dose of sodium thiopental that would render the prisoner unconscious, there is a substantial, constitutionally unacceptable risk of suffocation from the administration of pancuronium bromide and pain from the injection of potassium chloride.”
Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35, 53 (2008).
The lethal injection protocol used in most US States consists of a three-drug ‘cocktail’: sodium thiopental/pentobarbital (which is supposed to anaesthetise the prisoner), followed by pancuronium bromide (a cosmetic stage in the process, paralysing the prisoner so viewers don’t risk seeing him suffer), and finally potassium chloride (which stops the heart).
These drugs are administered by prison wardens with little or no medical training and no doctors are supposed to assist with (or advise on) the execution (see AMA position on this issue here). As a result, botched executions are common.
No pharmaceutical manufacturer would wish to be associated with lethal injections, particularly when the results are often so visibly barbaric. And beyond the ethical concerns associated with complicity in medical executions, there are also serious corporate commercial concerns to consider. The US is a litigious society, and lethal injection court challenges cost pharmaceutical manufacturers a huge amount of time and money. The cost to a manufacturer’s reputation is even higher.
Reprieve works to empower the pharmaceutical industry and provide strategies that will allow medicines to be used for the purposes for which they were designed – to improve and save lives – not in order to facilitate capital punishment.