UK doctors vote to end the use of medicines in executions

June 27, 2012

Image of drugs

The British Medical Association’s annual meeting today called for an end to the use of medicines in executions, and controls on the distribution and export of drugs used for this purpose.

The conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion calling on the BMA to “work with relevant international organisations (including the WMA and WHO) to prevent the export and use of pharmaceuticals for the purpose of execution.”

The motion was proposed by Dr. Timothy Crocker-Buque, Chair of the North Thames Regional Junior Doctors Committee, during the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting in Bournemouth. Recent months have seen key execution drugs in short supply in the USA. As a result, American death rows have increasingly turned to foreign suppliers to provide the ingredients necessary for the lethal injection ‘cocktail’ used to execute prisoners.Drugs imported for the purpose of executions are not tested or verified by the US Food and Drug Administration. As such, there can be no guarantees as to the quality or efficacy of the drugs.Furthermore, the drugs are administered in a complex series of injections by prison wardens who have on average 15 hours’ worth of medical training; executions are frequently ‘botched’, causing the prisoner pain and suffering tantamount to torture.

US states’ willingness to make use of a range of anaesthetics in order to kill prisoners means that both pharmaceutical companies and national governments need to remain vigilant to ensure that medicines reach legitimate medical users, and are not delivered into the hands of executioners to facilitate capital punishment.

The motion passed by the BMA is as follows:

That this Meeting:

  • i) recalls the important role the BMA played in the abolition of capital punishment in the UK;
  • ii) condemns the use of capital punishment, wherever in the world it takes place;
  • iii) believes that it is unethical for doctors to be involved in the process of execution;
  • iv) notes that many executions are carried out using pharmaceuticals produced by multi-national pharmaceutical companies;
  • v) commends the decision by the UK Government to halt export of pharmaceuticals from the UK for use in executions abroad;
  • vi) calls on the BMA International Committee, Ethics Committee and other relevant bodies to work with relevant international organisations (including the WMA and WHO) to prevent the export and use of pharmaceuticals for the purpose of execution.

“Inhumane; unethical”

Professor Vivienne Nathanson, Director of Professional Activities at the British Medical Association, said:

“The BMA is very pleased that doctors voted against the use of pharmaceuticals in capital punishment. The Association has campaigned against capital punishment for many years and we will continue to do so. We also believe it is completely unethical for doctors to have anything to do with the execution process.”

Reprieve investigator Maya Foa said:

“We are seeing more and more doctors and pharmaceutical manufacturers revolt at the grotesque abuse of medicines in executions. The British Medical Association – which, as early as 1950, advised the Royal Commission against a switch to lethal injection in the UK on the grounds that it was not ‘humane’ – is an extremely powerful and important voice in this debate. Pharma companies, governments and regulators all have a crucial role to play in ensuring that medicines are not abused in this way. It is vital that they remain vigilant and act quickly, to ensure these essential medicines don’t fall into the wrong hands.”


1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office:+44 (0) 207 427 1082 /

2. Reprieve has urged companies to sign up to a ‘Pharmaceutical Hippocratic Oath,’ which condemns the use of medicines in executions – a video explaining the issue can be viewed here:

3. 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.’

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