Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Human Rights Groups Tell Pharmacists to Cut Off Supply of Execution Drugs

Posted By on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 3:35 PM

Organizations including Amnesty International, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union have joined thousands of individuals in urging the American Pharmacists Association to prohibit its members from participating in state executions.

The Associated Press reports that those groups and other death penalty opponents presented a letter to that effect to the association yesterday, ahead of its annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. later this week. That letter says by participating in executions, pharmacists are "violating key provisions of the pharmacists' association code of ethics," according to the AP's report.

Tennessee intends to execute 10 death row inmates between April 2014 and November 2015, but like many states it has had difficulty keeping a supply lethal injection drugs. Drug manufacturers and compounding pharmacies have either stopped supplying their drugs, or only agreed to do so if the state promises them anonymity. To accommodate those demands, as The Tennessean's Brian Haas reported Sunday, Tennessee and other states have passed laws shrouding drug suppliers and indeed most of the execution process in secrecy.

State Department of Corrections spokeswoman Dorinda Carter told Haas that the state didn't currently have any pentobarbital — the drug it will need for upcoming executions — but that the state is "confident we will be able to secure the drug when necessary."

Questions about whether drugs used in lethal injections work as intended — a thorny notion if there ever was one — or if they actually inflict cruel and unusual punishment on the condemned are difficult to answer in this increasingly secretive context. But there has been disturbing anecdotal evidence as of late. In January, Michael Wilson's final words as the state of Oklahoma was putting him to death were, "I feel my whole body burning." In Ohio, it took 26 minutes to for Dennis McGuire to finally die, after what a lawsuit on behalf of his family describes as "repeated cycles of snorting, gurgling and arching his back, appearing to writhe in pain."

As the AP reports, the letter presented to the APA is part of a campaign led by Sum Of Us, a nonprofit group whose petition asking the APA to "ban your members from participating in executions in any way" has secured 36,481 signatures as of this writing.

The campaign is not likely to change APA policy anytime soon, though. The AP reports that "the earliest the group's delegates could consider any proposal would be next year" and that "the association previously adopted policies opposing the use of the word 'drug' for chemicals used in lethal injections, and opposing laws or regulations that require or prohibit pharmacists from participating in lethal injections.'

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