Pharmacists discouraged from providing meds for lethal injection

CNN

Debra Goldschmidt

CNN)The American Pharmacists Association is discouraging its members from participating in executions. On Monday, the group voted at its annual meeting to adopt a ban as an official policy, stating that “such activities are fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as healthcare providers.”

This bolsters the association’s previous positions to oppose the use of the term “drug” for chemicals used in lethal injection and to oppose laws that require or prohibit pharmacists from participation in lethal injection cases. . . [Full text]

 

Clinicians’ Involvement in Capital Punishment – Constitutional Implications

N Engl J Med 371;2 nejm.org july 10, 2014

Nadia N. Sawicki, J.D., M.Bioethics

If capital punishment is constitutional, as it has long been held to be, then it “necessarily follows that there must be a means of carrying it out.”1 So the Supreme Court concluded in Baze v. Rees, a 2008 challenge to Kentucky’s lethal-injection protocol, in which the Court held that the means used by Kentucky did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Lethal injection procedures have changed significantly since 2008, and that fact coupled with Oklahoma’s recent botched lethal injection of Clayton Lockett, the latest in a long series of gruesome and error- ridden executions, has raised questions about whether current methods would pass constitutional muster if reviewed by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, they probably would.

This likelihood may surprise members of the medical and scientific communities who oppose involvement by their professions in implementing the death penalty. Lethal injection, the primary execution method used in all death-penalty states, was adopted precisely because its sanitized, quasi-clinical procedures were intended to ensure humane deaths consistent with the Eighth Amendment. But experiences like Clayton Lockett’s, which result from prisons’ experimentation with untested drugs and reliance on personnel with unverifiable expertise, demonstrate the dearth of safeguards for ensuring that this goal is actually achieved. Some drug companies now refuse to distribute drugs used for executions, pharmacies are reluctant to participate unless their identities are shielded, and organized medicine has taken a stand against physicians’ involvement in capital punishment. Nevertheless, states have demonstrated their willingness to continue with lethal injections, and most federal courts have allowed executions to proceed in the face of constitutional challenges. The time is therefore ripe for the medical and scientific communities to consider, once again, their role in this process. [Full Text]

Embargo on lethal drug stops executions and assisted suicides in US

 Bioedge

Michael Cook

A shortage of a lethal drug is stopping both executions and assisted suicide in the United States. The supply of Nembutal, the drug of choice for executing prisoners in many American states and for assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington state, has dried up because its European manufacturer, the Danish company Lundbeck, refuses to supply it for use in executions. This has had an unintended consequence: patients in Oregon who want physician-assisted suicide cannot get it.

In a recent, widely-reported execution, the state of Oklahoma tried a three-drug cocktail as a substitute for Nembutal (also called pentobarbital or sodium thiopental) last month, but the prisoner, Clayton Lockett, appeared to die in great pain. So patients in Oregon are not going to be using that. A second-best drug, secobarbital, costs between US$1,500 and $2,300-more than five times pentobarbital and it is still hard to obtain.

The botched execution has dismayed lobbyists for assisted suicide because it suggests that a satisfactory substitute for Nembutal will be hard to find. According to the Wilamette Week, an Oregon newspaper, “Advocates would like to expand the policy across the country, and their concerns about bad publicity hampering that rollout appear to account for their reluctance to discuss Oregon’s shortage.”

The assisted suicide lobby, therefore, has turned to other solutions. Compassion & Choices (the rebranded Hemlock Society) has asked the Oregon Board of Pharmacy to allow a pharmacy to manufacture the drug from raw materials.

“Providing this service is important to Oregonians, and I’m very concerned about what appears to be a complete lack of availability of the drug we’ve historically used,” State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (who is also a doctor who dispenses assisted suicide prescriptions) told Wilamette Week. “What I’ve been told by the pharmacists is the drug is completely unavailable, and we should not prescribe it.”

The irony that one group lobbying against death is frustrating the work of another group lobbying for death was not lost on bioethics gadfly Wesley J. Smith. “It seems to me that if the drugs are wrong to use in lawful executions, they are also wrong to prescribe to people who want to kill themselves. Death-causing is death-causing, and that ain’t medicine,” he wrote in the National Review.

There are other ironies. It is widely acknowledged that it is against medical ethics for doctors to participate in executions. However, Oregon is one of the few states that mandates physician participation in an execution. And anticipating objections by a doctor’s colleagues, it has banned sanctions against him (or her) for participating in an execution.


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New execution protocol similar to doctor-assisted suicide recommended

New York Post

Lindsey Bever

Days after the botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett, a bipartisan committee studying the death penalty has recommended a new one-drug lethal injection method to kill quickly and “minimize the risk of pain or suffering.”

The committee, formed by the Constitution Project long before the Lockett execution, urged states to administer an overdose of one anesthetic or barbiturate to cause death – the same method used in doctor-assisted suicides. (To read the report, click here.)

This method would replace a three-drug lethal injection protocol currently used by most states that employ the death penalty. . . [Full text]