UN chief lauds Pfizer’s decision to ban use of its drugs in executions

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights has praised pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s decision to ban the sale and distribution of its drugs to prisons for use in executions by lethal injection.

“Business, across many industries, can help prevent human rights violations,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement on 19 May 2016. “It is heartening to see companies playing an active role in furthering the trend towards ending the use of the death penalty.”

On 13 May 2016, Pfizer announced the ban that will apply to seven drugs used in lethal injections in some US states: propofol, pancuronium bromide, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Pfizer says the controls will “limit the sale of the seven products to a select group of wholesalers, distributors and direct purchasers under the condition they will not resell these products to correctional institutions for use in lethal injections”.

Its company guidelines also stipulate that government purchasing entities “must certify that products they purchase or otherwise acquire are used only for medically prescribed patient care and not for any penal purposes”.

Zeid says US states should not resort to questionable sources for the drugs required to administer lethal injections, and underscored the UN opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances.

Lack of access to drugs for use in lethal injections and some botched executions has led some states, such as New Jersey, to repeal the death penalty and some to defer executions.

In March 2015, the American Pharmacists Association adopted a policy that “discourages pharmacist participation in executions on the basis that such activities are fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of health care”.

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Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, May 2016;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20201201