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January 22 2011 | UNITED STATES

USA/Italia

The Italian rank of Hospira will not supply anymore poison for lethal injections. The crucial contribution given by the Community of Sant'Egidio

 
printable version

ANSA

PENA MORTE: S. EGIDIO, NO A PENTOTHAL UNA VITTORIA ITALIANA

ROMA, 21 GEN - ''Una vittoria italiana''. ''Una scelta di grande responsabilita''. Cosi' la Comunita' di S. Egidio ha commentato la decisione della casa farmaceutica Hospira di non produrre più in Italia il Pentothal, farmaco utilizzato negli Usa per le iniezioni letali. Il movimento è tra i gruppi che a suo tempo si erano mobilitati per impedire che il prodotto fosse esportato negli Stati Uniti.
''La proposta della Comunità di Sant'Egidio di autosospendere le esportazioni è stata accolta. E si è trasformata nella decisione di sospendere del tutto la produzione del farmaco – si compiace il movimento in un comunicato - una scelta di grande responsabilità che mette in luce la necessità che nessun presidio terapeutico e nessun medico possa essere utilizzato per dare la morte''.
La Comunità di Sant'Egidio ricorda anche di essere stata uno dei promotori del dialogo con la sussidiaria italiana della Hospira e che un lavoro congiunto con l'organizzazione radicale 'Nessuno Tocchi Caino' aveva portato anche a un incontro con il Ministro degli Esteri Franco Frattini.
Mentre si attivavano iniziative legali a livello dell'Unione Europea sostenute dalla WCADP (World Coalition Against Death Penalty), ricorda ancora S. Egidio, l'intervento concordato con il Ministero degli Affari Esteri ha avviato un percorso coordinato anche con i ministeri della Salute e del Commercio Estero. In particolare erano stati concordati ''i criteri di produzione e uso a soli fini terapeutici con penali in caso di trasgressione dei limiti di licenza''.
Dopo uno stop alle esportazioni dalla Gran Bretagna, prosegue S. Egidio, a seguito di iniziative legali americane e della ONG inglese Reprieve, la Hospira srl. era diventata il principale fornitore di questo anestetico che è in via di disuso nel normale uso terapeutico ma che e' uno dei tre farmaci ufficiali nel protocollo delle esecuzioni capitali.

Los Angeles Time

Maker of anesthetic used in executions is discontinuing drug

Death penalty states could face long-term complications after the move by the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental. California may have to revise laws governing its three-injection protocol.
The sole U.S. maker of the anesthetic used in executions announced Friday it would stop manufacturing sodium thiopental to prevent its product from being used to put prisoners to death.
Discontinuance of the drug that has been in short supply nationwide for the past year portends long-term complications for death penalty states. Some, like California, might have to revise laws governing executions and those seeking supplies from foreign makers may be turned away by countries that condemn capital punishment.
In California, the legal guidance for carrying out executions was amended in August after three years of debate and deliberation. The state's new protocols specify use of sodium thiopental as the first drug in the three-injection sequence, and any substitution would require the state to again revise the protocols, said Elisabeth Semel, a UC Berkeley law professor and director of the law school's Death Penalty Clinic.
Legal challenges to lethal-injection procedures have kept executions on hold for five years in California, where 718 prisoners are on death row. Corrections officials' attempt to carry out the execution of murderer Albert Greenwood Brown in September was thwarted by the litigation, as well as by the expiration of the state's last few grams of sodium thiopental.
Hospira Inc., of Lake Forest, Ill., stopped making its brand of sodium thiopental, Pentothal, at a North Carolina plant early last year because of an unspecified raw material supply problem. When Hospira attempted to move production to a factory in Liscate, Italy, near Milan, Italian authorities demanded assurances that the drug wouldn't end up in the hands of executioners. Hospira spokesman Dan Rosenberg said company officers couldn't make that guarantee and decided instead to "exit the sodium thiopental market."
"We cannot take the risk that we will be held liable by the Italian authorities if the product is diverted for use in capital punishment," Rosenberg said.
Sodium thiopental is a powerful barbiturate that has "well-established medical benefits" for patients, the spokesman said, adding that Hospira has never condoned its use in executions.
As Pentothal supplies have run out, some of the 35 states that allow capital punishment have had to postpone executions or obtain supplies of the drug from abroad.
Both supporters and opponents of capital punishment predicted the drug discontinuance would place new legal hurdles to executions.
"Long-term, I expect that the states will follow the lead of Oklahoma and switch to another drug without a supply problem," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which is in favor of the death penalty.
"Short-term, this requires going through the cumbersome regulation process with comment-spamming by the anti-death-penalty crowd," he said, urging the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which carries out executions at San Quentin State Prison, to start the legal revision immediately "so as to have it completed before an actual supply problem delays and denies justice again."
Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization opposed to capital punishment that tracks death sentences, said states with the death penalty will now have to turn to a different anesthetic or seek sodium thiopental from a foreign supplier, "both of which have pitfalls."
Oklahoma has already executed two men using the anesthetic pentobarbital, commonly used to euthanize animals. But many states' statutes and protocols specify what drugs are to be used, and switching requires a lengthy legal review and submission for public comment, Dieter noted.
Importing sodium thiopental has raised questions about how to verify its purity and effectiveness, and the FDA has declined to take responsibility for vetting the imports, said Dieter.
California corrections officials imported a large quantity of sodium thiopental — enough for about 90 executions — from a British distributor in November, before a public outcry in Britain led to a ban on export of the drug to the United States. All European states have renounced the death penalty and many have legal restrictions against knowingly facilitating executions elsewhere.
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel has been reviewing California's new lethal injection procedures and is expected to rule soon on whether they comply with the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

 

The New York Times

States Face Shortage of Key Lethal Injection Drug

By ERIK ECKHOLM and KATIE ZEZIMA
The sole American manufacturer of an anesthetic widely used in lethal injections said Friday that it would no longer produce the drug, a move likely to delay more executions and force states to adopt new drug combinations.
The manufacturer, Hospira Inc., of Lake Forest, Ill., had originally planned to resume production of the drug, sodium thiopental, this winter at a plant in Italy, giving state corrections departments hope that the scarcity that began last fall would ease.
But the Italian authorities said they would not permit export of the drug if it might be used for capital punishment. Hospira said in a statement Friday that its aim was to serve medical customers, but that “we could not prevent the drug from being diverted to departments of corrections” and the company did not want to expose itself to liability in Italy.
Hospira does not have domestic facilities that can make sodium thiopental, said Daniel Rosenberg, a spokesman, and has decided to “exit the market.” No other American companies manufacture the drug, which has largely been supplanted by alternatives in hospitals but is used by 34 of the 35 states that use lethal injection to carry out the death penalty. An average of 55 executions have taken place annually over the last 10 years, with 46 last year and 52 in 2009, virtually all of them by lethal injection.
During what had been described as a temporary halt to production last year, scarcity of sodium thiopental led to delays in scheduled executions in at least two states, California and Oklahoma.
The extent to which execution schedules will be further disrupted by the drug shortage is not yet clear, but it could be considerable. In many states, adopting a new protocol for lethal injections requires formal proposals, public comment and often challenges in court — a process that can take months or more, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. But in others, switching drugs might be done more quickly, by administrative fiat.
Lethal injections commonly involve a sequence of three drugs that is set by state regulations: an anesthetic — sodium thiopental in every state but Oklahoma — intended to prevent pain, followed by a muscle relaxant and a drug that stops the heart.
As the shortage became acute last fall, California and Arizona obtained shipments of sodium thiopental from England, but the British government has since refused to allow exports of drugs for use in capital punishment, a policy that is under consideration by the entire European Union.
Those were two of several special shipments to corrections departments permitted by the Food and Drug Administration in 2009 and 2010, said Christopher Kelly, a spokesman for the agency. “No shipments are currently being held,” Mr. Kelly said on Friday.
Texas, which carries out more executions than any other state, has an aging stock of sodium thiopental that will expire in March, leaving it unusable.
“There currently are four executions scheduled in Texas — two in February, one in May and one in July,” said Michelle Lyons, director of public information at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “At this time, we have enough sodium thiopental on hand to carry out the two executions scheduled in February. In March, our supply of this particular drug is set to expire.”
“The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will explore other options, including possibly seeking an alternate drug for use in Texas’ lethal injection process,” she said in an e-mail.
Two states, Ohio and Washington, use only one drug, sodium thiopental, which is fatal at larger doses for executions.
“What I can tell you is Ohio does have enough sodium pentothal to carry out the execution scheduled in February,” said JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, using an alternate name for the drug. “But beyond that we are going to decline to comment on our supply of the lethal injection drug.”
Officials in Washington said that they had not had time to consider how to adapt to the news that sodium thiopental will no longer be available. The state has seven people on death row, but no executions are currently scheduled.
Officials in Arizona, where 134 people are on death row, said they had enough sodium thiopental for five executions, although none are currently scheduled.
Many states are expected to follow the lead of Oklahoma, substituting pentobarbital — another, more easily available anesthetic — in a similar three-drug sequence.
Pentobarbital is widely used in veterinary medicine and is also used in legal human euthanasia in Oregon. Death penalty opponents challenged the switch last year in Oklahoma, arguing that the effectiveness of pentobarbital in preventing pain during executions had not been proved. But a federal judge sided with the state, which has since used the new drug in three executions.
Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said the department orders the drug through a “private pharmacist” but would not specify who.
Only one company, Lundbeck Inc., now markets injectable pentobarbital in the United States, according to the F.D.A., but the agency said it was not aware of any shortage.

“America”

How Italian Catholics pulled the plug on US executions

The news has broken today that the sole US manufacturer of a key drug used in lethal injections will cease production because authorities in Italy, where the drug was to be made, wanted a guarantee that it wouldn't be used to put inmates to death.
Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill, had decided to switch production of the anaesthetic sodium thiopental from its North Carolina plant to Liscate, outside of Milan. But the Italian Parliament wanted the company to control the product's distribution to prevent it being used for executions. Hospira decided it couldn't make that promise and has decided to suspend production -- potentially throwing the death penalty system in the US into disarray.
But what's missing from today's reports is that behind the Italian Parliament's insistence is a lay Catholic movement dedicated -- among many other things - to the eradication of the death penalty around the world. The Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio had been engaged in discussions with Hospira's Italian subsidiary, Hospira SL, which led to meetings with the Foreign Affairs minister, Franco Frattini, and the Ministry of Health. The result of those meetings was an agreement that the production of the drug in Italy would have to be for strictly therapeutic purposes. The company has long deplored its use in executions, and said it regretted the need to cease production.
Hospira's choice to end production because it couldn't give that guarantee was described as "highly responsible" by Sant'Egidio's spokesman, Mario Marazziti, who said: "It highlights the point that therapeutic drugs and doctors should never be used to bring about death".
Sidium thiopental is already in short supply after the British government last November also banned the UK manufacture of the drug following a campaign by the British NGO Reprieve. According to the Wall Street Journal's law blog, Hospira's decision means the death penalty system in the US "is potentially thrown into turmoil". States can attempt to use another anaesthetic instead -- Oklahoma, for example, has switched to a drug used to euthanise cats and dogs -- but it involves seeking clearance from the courts, which is likely to delay executions.
There is a lesson here about globalization. It's not just the market that's gone global. It's civil society pressure, too.

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