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Pfizer Deals Blow to Lethal Injections

Pfizer, Inc., the world’s second-largest pharmaceutical manufacturer, recently announced new restrictions on the distribution of drugs used to execute prisoners.

The May 13, 2016 announcement detailed “distribution restrictions” that the company is placing on certain drugs used in lethal injection protocols, including pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride, propofol, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide and vecuronium bromide. According to Pfizer’s statement, the new restrictions will limit the sale of those drugs to “a select group of wholesalers, distributors, and direct purchasers under the condition that they will not resell these products to correctional institutions for use in lethal injections.”

Opponents of the death penalty applauded Pfizer for restricting access to the execution drugs, noting that the company’s move, in conjunction with other efforts to limit access to lethal injection drugs, may force states to reconsider their use of capital punishment.

“I think it will have the effect of encouraging states to rethink their policies,” said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “The lethal injection debate is causing legislators to rethink the death penalty as a whole. Some states may move to other methods, but they face significant problems because the majority of Americans believe each of the alternatives is cruel and unusual punishment.”

Pfizer made its position on the use of its drugs in executions crystal clear. “Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve,” the company stated. “Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.”

Experts noted that while the company’s decision was a moral one, it was also a sound business decision.

“Pfizer is building on an industry movement cementing an industry position,” said Maya Foa, director of the anti-death penalty team at the UK-based nonprofit Reprieve.

Dunham went further: “If you’re making a drug to save lives, that drug has a particular brand value. You don’t want it associated with death. When states are using these medicines to take lives, they’re engaging in product disparagement. That’s bad for business.”

A number of other drug manufacturers, mostly oversees, have restricted the use of their products in executions, too – leading states to consider alternative forms of capital punishment such as the firing squad or nitrogen gas. [See: PLN, April 2015, p.40].


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