New US execution method threatens hospital supplies; European pharma firms urged to act

May 26, 2012

Image of drugs

The US state of Missouri has announced a new execution method which will see a medicine badly needed by US hospitals being used to kill prisoners.

The state has set out plans to use propofol, an anaesthetic which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned is in short supply, for future executions by lethal injection.

Missouri had until now used the three-drug execution ‘cocktail’ favoured by most states which carry out capital punishment. It is not yet clear how much propofol (also known as Diprivan) the state has bought up, but Missouri is understood to be planning nine executions just days after announcing the new execution protocol.

Legal action charity Reprieve is now calling on all manufacturers of propofol – notably European firms such as Fresenius Kabi – urgently to put in place the controls needed to ensure their product only reaches legitimate medical users. Should they fail to do so, not only will their drugs be used to kill, but they will be diverted away from life-saving applications in US hospitals at a time of serious need.

Reprieve recently launched the ‘Pharmaceutical Hippocratic Oath,’ under which companies pledge to avoid becoming embroiled in the execution process, and take action to prevent supplies of their medicines being diverted to execution chambers. Pharmaceutical company Lundbeck last year took steps which ensured that their products could not be used by executioners, but continued to reach legitimate medical users.

Reprieve investigator Maya Foa said:

“This is an extremely disturbing development. The US Food and Drug Administration is reporting shortages of this life-saving drug. Whatever your views on the death penalty, it cannot be right that prisons like Missouri’s should be allowed to stockpile vital medicines at the expense of doctors and patients. Pharmaceutical companies and doctors must unite in opposition to this appalling abuse of medicines. There are steps that can be taken. Now is the time to act, and act fast.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: / +44 (0) 7931592674

2. Further information on Missouri’s new execution protocol – including the original text – can be found here:

3. Propofol is on the FDA’s list of current drug shortages:

4. Further information on the executions Missouri is scheduling can be found here:

5. Reprieve recently issued a new film urging corporations to sign the ‘Pharmaceutical Hippocratic Oath’ and prevent their drugs being used to kill:

6. 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 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

Follow Reprieve on twitter: @ReprieveUK; if you were forwarded this release, sign up to join our press mailing list.