Press conference in Copenhagen as Texas kills its first prisoner with Lundbeck drugs

April 4, 2011

As Texas kills its first prisoner with Danish drugs on Tuesday, Danish ICJ Board member Sune Skadegaard Thorsen, Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador Bianca Jagger, Cultural Critic Klavs Birkholm and Reprieve Investigator Maya Foa will discuss corporate complicity in capital punishment and Reprieve will present an urgent message from US death row lawyers to Lundbeck corporation and to the Danish government.

Disturbing new information has now emerged about the way Lundbeck drugs will be used by the state of Texas to kill prisoners. A new report will be presented at Tuesday’s press conference, before being delivered with an urgent letter to the Danish Government and to Lundbeck headquarters. Cleve Foster is scheduled to die in Texas with Lundbeck drugs at 6pm local time (1am in Denmark).

PRESS CONFERENCE: 11.15am Tuesday 5th April (Cleve Foster will be executed in Texas later that night), Conference Room, Hotel Danmark, Vester Voldgade 89, 1552 København V


Sune Skadegaard Thorsen, Senior Partner, Global CSR Attorney and pioneer in applying human rights to Corporate Social Responsibility Sune Skadegaard Thorsen will speak about the human rights responsibilities in the pharmaceutical industry also with respect to capital punishment and its implications on the right to life.

Bianca Jagger, Goodwill Ambassador, Council of Europe (via Skype) Goodwill Ambassador to the Council of Europe and Chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, Bianca will appeal to the Government of Denmark and Lundbeck Corporation to prevent their drugs facilitating capital punishment in the USA.

Klavs Birkholm, Danish journalist and cultural critic Member of the Danish Council of Ethics from 2003-2011, Klavs will talk about the cultural implications of lethal drug manufacture in Denmark.

Maya Foa, Investigator, Reprieve Death row investigator, Maya Foa, will present new material relating to execution procedures in Texas and discuss the role of Denmark in capital punishment in the US.

Comments will be also heard in absentia from Dr. David Nicholl FRCP PhD, US Attorney Sandra Babcock and Patricia Archard


    Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck recently voted to continue supplying pentobarbital for lethal injections in the USA.

    Cleve Foster will be the first inmate to be killed in Texas with Lundbeck drugs. He is scheduled to die at 6pm local time (1am Danish time) on Tuesday 5th April.

    The new method is considered dangerous because the drug, a sedative, was not designed for executions and has no clinical history of such use.

    Lundbeck refused to put in place end-user agreements to prevent its drug being used in executions. The company also refused to conduct a basic investigation into the safety of its product for executions.

    Four states, including Texas, have now switched to Lundbeck’s pentobarbital for executions. Texas is the busiest executing state in the US, with seven executions already scheduled. Cleve’s is therefore the first of potentially hundreds of deaths involving Lundbeck drugs.

Reprieve Investigator Maya Foa said: 

“Cleve Foster’s execution has been facilitated by Lundbeck, and the company bears responsibility for it. We have disturbing new information about the way Lundbeck’s drugs are being used, which Lundbeck cannot ignore. Cleve’s execution will not go unnoticed in Denmark, and Tuesday will be a very uncomfortable day at Lundbeck headquarters.”

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office / 020 7427 1099 / 07931592674.

Notes for Editors:

Pentobarbital is a sedative licensed in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for certain therapeutic uses, including preoperative sedation and the treatment of seizures.

Since supplies of the anaesthetic, sodium thiopental, began to dry up in the summer of 2010, departments of corrections have been increasingly turning to pentobarbital as the drug of choice for their lethal injection procedures. Ohio, Oklahoma, Arizona and Texas have already switched to pentobarbital; other states have openly declared their intention to do the same.

Lundbeck is the sole FDA-approved supplier of pentobarbital in the United States. This means that every gram of the drug that ends up in the veins of condemned prisoners has been manufactured and sold by a pharmaceutical company based in Denmark – a country that abolished the death penalty in 1930. The number of executions for which Lundbeck will be responsible is set to grow exponentially as more and more states adopt pentobarbital in their lethal injection protocols. In Texas alone, there are likely to be dozens of executions this year.

Some states, such as Ohio, have changed their execution protocol to a single large dose of pentobarbital. Others, such as Texas, have opted for a new version of the three-drug lethal injection cocktail: pentobarbital, followed by pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Four prisoners have already been executed using Lundbeck’s pentobarbital (in Ohio and Oklahoma). The first person to be executed using the new protocol adopted by Texas Department of Corrections is Cleve Foster, slated to die on Tuesday, 5th April.

The use of pentobarbital in executions is experimental, and considered highly risky because the drug was not designed to be used as an anaesthetic. The method of execution chosen by various state correctional facilities, and notably by the Texas Department of Corrections less than three weeks ago, is considered to be particularly dangerous. If the anaesthetic in a three-drug procedure fails, the prisoner dies an excruciating death: the pancuronium bromide paralyzes him, causing him to slowly suffocate, and the lethal dose of potassium chloride has an effect that has been likened to having one’s veins set on fire. See Baze v. Rees, 553 U. S. 35, 53 (2008): if the anesthetic does not work properly, there is an “unacceptable risk of suffocation from the administration of pancuronium bromide and pain from the injection of potassium chloride”.

Texas Department of Corrections hastily adopted a new protocol without consulting medical experts or scientists on the risks associated with this new method. The first experiment using this combination of drugs in Texas will be carried out on a human being, Cleve Foster, on Tuesday. This is extremely dangerous, as Dr. David B Waisel, Associate Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School explains:

‘[t]he use of pentobarbital as an agent to induce anesthesia has no clinical history and is non-standard. … The combination of significant unknowns from a lack of clinical history related to using pentobarbital to induce anesthesia …puts the inmate at risk for serious undue pain and suffering’ [emphasis supplied]. [1]

Lundbeck representatives have repeatedly insisted that the company is doing “all it can” to prevent the use of its drugs in executions. However, Lundbeck’s management has now rejected three opportunities to take meaningful action on the issue. After vacillating for weeks, executives ultimately refused to insert straightforward ‘end-user’ agreements – preventing the sale of their products to state penitentiaries for execution purposes – into their supply contracts.[2] They claimed that such agreements could alienate their distributors, but didn’t even go so far as to discuss the matter with the distributors.

Now, Lundbeck’s Chief Executive Ulf Wiinberg has refused to provide a report on the safety of the use of pentobarbital in lethal injection procedures, something which he could easily have asked the numerous scientists who work at Lundbeck to look into. He has refused to even make a statement about the lack of scientific data or clinical testing of the new protocol. A report from Lundbeck on why the method is unsafe, or even a simple statement declaring that there is too little information available to carry out such an experiment on a human being, could be decisive in preventing the torture and death of Cleve Foster on Tuesday 5th April, and countless others – but the company is apparently unwilling to take even these small steps towards minimising the harm that will be done in their name in a matter of days.

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 27 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Chair: Lord Ken Macdonald QC; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner, Vivienne Westwood