(First published in Norwegian 4 June 2007)
By Pia A. Gaarder
The American network organization Texas Moratorium Network is demanding that pharmaceutical companies and distributors take responsibility and actively prevent their preparations from being used to execute condemned prisoners.
This concerns primarily preparations used to treat patients around the world and which were developed to help people, not to kill them.
These preparations are not sold freely on the open market but are dispensed only on prescription. Monitoring of their end-use is therefore neither unreasonable nor impossible to implement, and this can integrated into the companies’ policy, according to the organization.
“These pharmaceutical preparations have a wide range of legitimate areas of application, so it is not possible for the companies to stop their production. But the shareholders must demand that the companies take serious action to prevent the preparations from being used in the lethal injections. If the companies remain passive and do nothing, then investors should withdraw,” Scott Cobb, the leader of Texas Moratorium Network (TMC), told Norwatch.
The Texas organization believes that shareholders like the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global must exert pressure on the companies. The organization will therefore now write to the Pension Fund managers and ask The Bank of Norway to use active ownership power towards the companies in question.
Death sentence by means of lethal injections has become the most widespread method of execution in American prisons. According to Amnesty International the method is also used in China and has previously been used in the Philippines, Guatemala, and Thailand. Most information about the lethal injections is to be found in the USA.
There three different drugs are injected into the veins of condemned prisoners: a so-called barbiturate, which makes the prisoner loose consciousness (sodium thiopental); then a curare-like drug, which paralyzes the respiratory muscles (pancuronium bromide); and, finally, potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
The pharmaceutical companies that have commented on the matter are, for their part, strongly opposed to their products being used in the lethal injections. None of the companies has, however, seriously approached the question of the possibility of drying out American prisons with regard the necessary ingredients for the injections through a better monitoring of the distribution chain.
“The managers of the Norwegian Pension Fund should definitely exert pressure on the companies. It should be examined more closely whether the producers can demand an end-user declaration that guarantees that the preparations will not be used in executions,” according to Beate Slydal, political advisor in Amnesty Norway.
She emphasizes that Amnesty has not yet discussed the case but does not exclude the possibility that monitoring of the drugs’ distribution chain could constitute one means.
“For the time being, I do not know what possible difficulties could arise and what implications this might have, but is important that this possibility is examined more closely,” Slydal said.
Four of Eight Companies
In a report prepared by the American organization The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) in 2002 there are eight companies that produce or have exclusive distribution rights for the pharmaceuticals utilized in the lethal injections.
Norwatch’s investigation shows that, in the meanwhile, changes have occurred in the producer and distributor list. Companies have been bought up, and production has been separated off into separate companies. Taking all these changes into account, the Pension Fund has investments of altogether 193 million euros in four companies that with certainty still produce or distribute the preparations.
These are as follows:
• The producer Hospira Inc., USA, was separated from Abbott Laboratories in 2004. Hospira retained the production of a series of pharmaceuticals, including sodium thiopental (Pentothal®), to which Abbott had exclusive rights. The company produces all of the three drugs sodium thiopental (Pentothal®), pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. (The Pension Fund has invested 6,2 million euros in the company’s shares and 4,4 million euros in bonds.)
• The producer Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, Israel, bought in January 2004 Sicor Pharmaceutical, previously Gensia Sicor Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which produces pancuronium bromide. (The Pension Fund has 22 million euros in shares, no bonds.)
• The pharmaceutical producer Baxter International, USA, makes potassium chloride. (The Pension Fund has 53,4 million euros in shares and 13,3 million euros in bonds.)
• The distributor Cardinal Health, USA, distributes potassium chloride injections produced by Baxter and pancuronium bromide injections produced by Sicor/Teva. (The Pension Fund has 83,8 million euros in shares and 15,2 million euros in bonds.)
Consequently, the Pension Fund has altogether invested 194 million euros in these four companies, of which 165,4 million euros is in shares and 329,5 million in bonds.
In addition, the Pension Fund has share investments in the distributor AmerisourceBergen (USA) and in the producer Wyeth (USA) of, respectively, 7,1 million euros and 194 million euros, but Norwatch has not received answers as to whether they still distribute or produce the pharmaceutical substances in question.
It is not coincidental that it is a network organization from Texas that now wants to take the initiative with regard to the Government Pension Fund – Global, since the state of Texas is one of those most eager to implement the death penalty in the USA.
“So far this year, 14 of 21 executions in the USA have been carried out in Texas. The numbers change constantly, but it is no coincidence that the capital of Texas, Houston, is known as the death penalty capital of the USA. Texas has entered five new executions on the agenda for June,” Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network told Norwatch.
It is a big ethical problem for the whole medical profession that pharmaceutical products developed to help people instead are used to take lives. A series of the states that practice the death penalty have great problems getting physicians to attend during the executions. Obtaining the medications can also be a problem. The drugs are dispensed only on prescription and must be prescribed by physicians. According to the NCADP report, the state of Texas, for example, has had to use roundabout methods to obtain the necessary drugs for the prisons and to avoid getting the state’s health personnel in trouble.
Scott Cobb in TMC believes that it is a widespread misconception that lethal injections constitute a humane method of execution, and he is not afraid that, if the lethal injection becomes impossible, the state will return to using the electric chair, shooting, or hanging. “If it becomes impossible to use lethal injections, this will constitute a step in the direction towards abolishing the practice of the death penalty in the USA,” according to Cobb.
The Companies Disapprove
Baxter International has published a declaration at its web site in which the company disassociates itself from the use of its products in the lethal injections. “This is a use of our products that runs counter to the purpose of all our business activity, which is to procure life-preserving therapy,” Baxter writes.
The company points out that the use of the drugs in American prisons is not within the use and doses authorized by the American Food and Drug Administration. But the company claims simultaneously that it is not possible for them to monitor the end-use of these products.
Hospira Inc, which is the only company that produces all three pharmaceuticals, writes in an e-mail to Norwatch that the company does not support the use of their products in the death penalty. Jason Hodges in Hospira’s public relations department says that the company in 2005 wrote to the prison authorities in the USA and made them aware of the company’s position. Hodges emphasizes that there are many ways of obtaining these products, and that it is best to direct the work to change the death penalty politics towards the legislative authorities.
Neither Teva nor Cardinal Health has answered Norwatch’s enquiry.
The Norwegian «Government Pension Fund – Global» was formerly called «The Government Petroleum Fund». The name was changed January 1, 2006. The fund is still populary called «Oil fund».