Pharmacists’ Participation in Executions

Preparing-an-injection1695The Advocates for Human Rights’ Rosalyn Park, the organization’s director of research and acting director of its Women’s Human Rights Program, testified yesterday, December 10, 2014 (coincidentally International Human Rights Day) to the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy regarding pharmacist participation in executions.

“My name is Rosalyn Park, and I’m the Research Director at The Advocates for Human Rights. Thank you for your time today. The Advocates is deeply concerned about the issue of lethal injection in the United States and we have recently submitted a report to the UN Committee against Torture on the matter. I’ve brought copies of our report to share with you.

“I want to begin by saying that this matter on the table today is NOT about abolishing the death penalty. It’s NOT about opposing it. The Advocates is here today because the issue of lethal injection drugs brings front and center the issue of professional standards in and the nature of the pharmacy profession.

“Let me tell you why we are here having this discussion. The nature of the landscape has changed greatly in recent years, and it has put the Pharmacists’ Code of Ethics into a face-off with the execution methods used in the United States today. Here’s why execution by lethal injection is so problematic:

  • Policies adopted by foreign governments have blocked U.S. states’ ability to procure the drugs needed to administer lethal injections. For example, the EU issued the Torture Goods Regulation, which imposes export controls on 8 barbiturates, including 2 drugs that were traditionally used in executions.
  • Private corporations have also followed suit and stopped selling to customers drugs that could be used for executions in the United States.
  • In turn, as these legitimate sources of drugs have dried up, states have begun to turn to unregulated and non-transparent sourcing for lethal injection drugs:
  • They are obtaining these drugs or their ingredients from dubious sources that are outside of federal oversight and regulation. In one case in Arizona, the state executed Jeffrey Landrigan with drugs bought from a pharmaceutical company operating in the back of a London driving school. There is a clear disregard for where these drugs came from and what their quality is.
  • Given this situation, several states have adopted secrecy laws to conceal the identity of drug suppliers and the identities of the execution team. Yet, when we look at MN’s code of ethics, paragraph F defines as unprofessional conduct a refusal to consult with patrons or patients, attempting to circumvent the consulting requirements, or discouraging the patient from receiving consultation concerning contents, therapeutic values, uses, and prices of legend or nonlegend drugs, chemicals, or poisons. Our state’s ethics rules contravene the very actions that U.S. states are taking to keep the sources of their drugs a secret.

“We have seen the spate of botched executions in the news. I want to recount to you the July 23 execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III by Arizona, which used midazolam and hydromorphone. In our report, we note how Wood ‘gulped like a fish on land’ and convulsed. During these convulsions, Wood made ‘a snoring, sucking sound, similar to when a swimming pool filter starts taking in air… it was death by apnea that went on for an hour-and-a-half.’ The reporter witnessing the execution noted, ‘I made a pencil stroke on a pad of paper each time his mouth opened, and ticked off more than 640, which was not all of them, because the doctor came in at least 4 times and blocked my view.’

This is tantamount to torture, and pharmacists should in no way be put into that position to make, sell, or otherwise provide drugs for purposes of such an execution. I remind you that Paragraph K of the ethics rules states it is unprofessional to engage in any pharmacy practice which constitutes a danger to the health, welfare, or safety of a patient or the public, including but not limited to, practicing in a manner which substantially departs from the standard of care ordinarily exercised by a pharmacist and which harms or could harm a patient.

“But Minnesota can lead the way. Minnesota had the highest per capita signers onto a petition sent to the American Pharmacists Association and state boards asking for a prohibition against participating in executions. And now, it can be the first state pharmacy board to do so and become a national leader with this step.

“In conclusion, The Advocates respectfully asks that you issue a statement that participation in executions is antithetical to the pharmacy profession in this state. Thank you.”

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