Death Penalty: Danish drug maker Lundbeck sells drug used by several states in lethal injection process

From: The Republic, Dec 22nd 2011
By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The only U.S.-licensed maker of a drug used by several states to execute inmates is selling the product to another drug manufacturer, saying pentobarbital — a sedative never intended for capital punishment — wasn’t an important product for the firm.

Denmark-based Lundbeck Inc. said a distribution system meant to keep the drug out of the hands of prisons will remain in place as Lake Forest, Ill.-based Akorn Inc. acquires the drug.

Lundbeck acquired pentobarbital, also known by its trademark name, Nembutal, when it purchased Deerfield, Ill.-based Ovation Pharmaceuticals Inc. in 2009. The Ovation purchase targeted that company’s newer drugs and never involved an interest in pentobarbital, Lundbeck spokesman Mads Kronborg said Thursday.

Lundbeck said it would have sold off pentobarbital earlier but delayed the sale when controversy over its use in executions arose so that the company could restrict its use for capital punishment.

Lundbeck’s system sells the product directly to hospitals and treatment centers using its previous distributor, Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health, to ship the product.

“We have dealt with that very, very difficult dilemma that we were put in by this … misuse that we are so strongly against,” Kronborg said. “We handled that dilemma to the best of our ability.”

Lundbeck, like other companies whose drugs took on an unintended role in U.S. executions, had asked states to stop using their product for capital punishment.

Messages left with Akorn seeking comment weren’t immediately returned.

Several states, including Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, switched to pentobarbital after supplies of a previous execution drug dried up. States are expected to need a new drug soon as supplies dwindle because of the restrictions, which took effect in July.

Read the rest here.

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Pentobarbital: Danish manufacturer Lundbeck has now prohibited its use in the US as an execution drug

The decision by the Danish firm to ban use of pentobarbital as a US execution drug may deal a fatal blow to capital punishment.

The Guardian
David Nicholl, Friday 1 July 2011

Article history
Pentobarbital: Danish manufacturer Lundbeck has now prohibited its use in the US as an execution drug. Photograph: Alessandro Della Bella/AP

The announcement by Danish pharmaceutical firm Lundbeck on Friday that it is restricting the distribution of pentobarbital represents a landmark decision. This is the first time that a major global pharmaceutical company has taken such direct action to tighten up its supply chain to ensure that its drugs are used to benefit the health of patients, not assist in state-sponsored execution. It follows months of pressure from human rights advocates. At the end of last year, US death row states found it difficult to get access to the previous drug, thiopental, for executions following an export ban from the UK.

Lethal injection is perceived as a more medical, and hence humane, method than hanging, stoning, shooting or electrocution. Yet the medicalisation of executions is an abomination of medical ethics, banned by all medical professional bodies, including the American Medical Association. Doctors’ prime purpose is to help patients: “first do no harm” should be a doctor’s credo, not assist in state-sponsored killing. Previously, the attention of human rights campaigners has been directed at the physicians and healthcare staff who have assisted in executions. Lundbeck’s remarkable decision has, in effect, set an industry standard that no drug company should allow their products to be used for executions, even if without their authority.

To date, 17 people have been executed using the novel, and hence untested, pentobarbital regime. The most recent to die, Roy Blakenship, was executed last week. Witnesses reported that he “appeared to grimace” and that he “jerked his head several times throughout the procedure and muttered after the pentobarbital was injected into his veins before he died”. One medical expert, Dr David Waisel, has testified that “I can say with certainty that Mr [Roy] Blankenship was inadequately anesthetised and was conscious for approximately the first three minutes of the execution and that he suffered greatly.”

Few doctors involved in executions have been prepared to go public. One who has, Dr Carlo Musso, was directly involved in Blakenship’s execution. Dr Musso stated his opposition to the death penalty in a 2006 interview. Then, Dr Musso perceived his role as a palliative care physician on death row. “It just seems wrong for us to walk away, to abdicate our responsibility to the patients,” he said at the time.

Read the rest here.

Lundbeck and pentobarbital: pharma takes a stand against executions

The decision by the Danish firm to ban use of pentobarbital as a US execution drug may deal a fatal blow to capital punishment.

The Guardian
David Nicholl, Friday 1 July 2011

Article history
Pentobarbital: Danish manufacturer Lundbeck has now prohibited its use in the US as an execution drug. Photograph: Alessandro Della Bella/AP

The announcement by Danish pharmaceutical firm Lundbeck on Friday that it is restricting the distribution of pentobarbital represents a landmark decision. This is the first time that a major global pharmaceutical company has taken such direct action to tighten up its supply chain to ensure that its drugs are used to benefit the health of patients, not assist in state-sponsored execution. It follows months of pressure from human rights advocates. At the end of last year, US death row states found it difficult to get access to the previous drug, thiopental, for executions following an export ban from the UK.

Lethal injection is perceived as a more medical, and hence humane, method than hanging, stoning, shooting or electrocution. Yet the medicalisation of executions is an abomination of medical ethics, banned by all medical professional bodies, including the American Medical Association. Doctors’ prime purpose is to help patients: “first do no harm” should be a doctor’s credo, not assist in state-sponsored killing. Previously, the attention of human rights campaigners has been directed at the physicians and healthcare staff who have assisted in executions. Lundbeck’s remarkable decision has, in effect, set an industry standard that no drug company should allow their products to be used for executions, even if without their authority.

To date, 17 people have been executed using the novel, and hence untested, pentobarbital regime. The most recent to die, Roy Blakenship, was executed last week. Witnesses reported that he “appeared to grimace” and that he “jerked his head several times throughout the procedure and muttered after the pentobarbital was injected into his veins before he died”. One medical expert, Dr David Waisel, has testified that “I can say with certainty that Mr [Roy] Blankenship was inadequately anesthetised and was conscious for approximately the first three minutes of the execution and that he suffered greatly.”

Few doctors involved in executions have been prepared to go public. One who has, Dr Carlo Musso, was directly involved in Blakenship’s execution. Dr Musso stated his opposition to the death penalty in a 2006 interview. Then, Dr Musso perceived his role as a palliative care physician on death row. “It just seems wrong for us to walk away, to abdicate our responsibility to the patients,” he said at the time.

Read the rest here.

Urgent Action: Imminent Execution/Death Penalty USA (Ohio): Johnnie Baston

From Amnesty International:

Johnnie Baston, a 36-year-old African American man, is scheduled to be executed in Ohio on 10 March. He was sentenced to death in 1995 for a murder committed during a robbery in 1994.

Chong Hoon Mah, a South Korean immigrant to the USA, was shot and killed on 21 March 1994 during a robbery of one of the retail shops that he owned in Toledo, Ohio. Johnnie Baston was arrested after police received information that he was involved in the crime. He told police that he had participated in the robbery with an accomplice named “Ray”, a high-ranking gang member, who was the gunman. However, police were never able to identify or locate this person, and came to believe that Johnnie Baston acted alone. He was charged, pleaded not guilty, and chose to be tried before a three-judge panel rather than a jury. The judges sentenced him to death on 27 February 1995, finding only one mitigating factor – his young age – and ruling that this was outweighed by the nature of the crime.

Johnnie Baston has been on death row for 16 years, most of his adult life. At the time of the crime, he was just past his 20th birthday. He had been abandoned by his biological mother soon after he was born, and has never seen her since, his only communication with her being a letter from her after he was sent to death row. As a young boy, he was adopted by his aunt after she saw his bruising and malnourishment, evidence of a pattern of physical abuse and neglect in his first years at the hands of his father. At the clemency hearing before the Ohio Adult Parole Authority on 3 February 2011, his adoptive mother recalled that his parental abandonment had led to serious behavioural problems in his teenage years, culminating in her throwing him out of the home about a week before the crime.

Also at the clemency hearing was one of the prosecutors from the original trial. She said that Chong Mah’s son had asked her to appear to reiterate the victim’s family’s opposition to the execution of Johnnie Baston because of their respect for human life.

Last year she and another prosecutor signed sworn statements that the Mah family had been opposed to the death penalty at the time of the trial as well. Last month, Chong Mah’s son also signed a statement that “my family and I are opposed to Mr Baston being executed”.

A senior Justice on the Ohio Supreme Court has called for abolition of the state’s death penalty, describing it as a “death lottery” (see overleaf). By way of illustration, Johnnie Baston’s clemency petition points to the case of another defendant who was tried in the same county (Lucas County) for a comparable crime in 1994 (shooting of a store manager at close range during a robbery) and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The petition also pointed to the disproportionate number of death sentences passed against black defendants in Lucas County. Of the 21 death sentences passed there since 1981, in 16 cases the defendant was black, and in four cases white.

The parole board voted 9-0 against recommending clemency. Their recommendation is not binding on the Governor.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, unconditionally. To end the death penalty is to abandon a degrading, destructive, diversionary and divisive public policy that is not consistent with widely held values. It not only runs the risk of irrevocable error, it is also costly, in social and psychological terms as well as to the public purse. It has not been proved to have a unique deterrent effect. It tends to be applied in a discriminatory way, on grounds of race and class. It diverts resources that could be better used to work against violent crime and assist those affected by it. The death penalty extends the suffering of the victim’s family to that of the condemned prisoner.

Public and political support for the death penalty has weakened in recent years, and the rate of death sentencing has declined.

One possible factor contributing to this decline is the adoption across the US states of life without the possibility of parole. Ohio adopted this as a sentencing option in 1996, a year after Johnnie Baston’s trial. In the decade from 1990 to 1999, 127 death sentences were passed in Ohio, at an average of nearly 13 per year. In the following decade, the 43 death sentences were passed in the state, at an average of just over four per year.

In 2008, then Senior US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens revealed that he had decided, after more than three decades on the country’s highest court, that the death penalty was a cruel waste of time. “I have relied on my own experience”, he wrote, “in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes”.

In Ohio, Senior Justice Paul Pfeifer of the state Supreme Court, who when he was a state legislator was a co-author of Ohio’s death penalty statute enacted in 1981, wrote inJanuary 2011: “I helped craft the law, and I have helped enforce it. From my rather unique perspective, I have come to the conclusion that we are not well served by our ongoing attachment to capital punishment… I ask: do we want our state government – and thus, by extension, all of us – to be in the business of taking lives in what amounts to a death lottery? I can’t imagine that’s something about which most of us feel comfortable. And, thus, I believe the time has come to abolish the death penalty in Ohio”. Also in January, a former Director of the Ohio Department of Corrections, who witnessed 33 executions between 2001 and 2010, urged Ohio officials to consider abolition of the death penalty.

There have been 1,242 executions in the USA since judicial killing resumed there in 1977, including eight so far this year. Ohio has executed 42 people since resuming executions in 1999. Thirty-two of them were put to death under a three-drug lethal injection process (sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride) used in most US death penalty states to anesthetize, paralyze and kill the prisoner.

In November 2009 the Ohio authorities responded to ongoing legal challenges to the three-drug procedure – and to events two months earlier when the state’s lethal injection team attempted and failed over the course of two hours to execute death row prisoner Romell Broom – by changing to a one-drug protocol whereby the condemned inmate would be injected with five grams of sodium thiopental, essentially an overdose of this anaesthetic. Having executed 10 prisoners in this way between December 2009 and February 2011, but now faced with the nationwide sodium thiopental shortage after the only US supplier, Hospira, ceased production of this drug, Ohio has decided to switch to another barbiturate, pentobarbital. The execution of Johnnie Baston is due to become the first carried out in Ohio with this drug. From late 2010, Oklahoma turned to this drug as the substitute for sodium thiopental in its three-drug execution method.

In January, the Ohio authorities were contacted by the Denmark-based pharmaceutical company Lundbeck Inc. The letter states:

“In the wake of the decision of Hospira to cease production of sodium thiopental, which is used in the execution of prisoners, Lundbeck has become aware that the State of Ohio has now decided to use Lundbeck’s product Nembutal® (pentobarbital sodium injection USP) for this purpose. Lundbeck is adamantly opposed to the use of Nembutal, or any other product for that matter, for the purpose of capital punishment… [W]e urge you to discontinue the use of Nembutal in the execution of prisoners in your state because it contradicts everything we are in business to do – provide therapies that improve people’s lives.”

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:

– Acknowledging the seriousness of the crime for which Johnnie Baston was sentenced to death;
– Calling on the governor to commute the death sentence and to work to lead Ohio away from the death penalty.

APPEALS TO:
Governor of Ohio
Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center, 30th Floor, 77 South High Street
Columbus, Oh 43215-6117,
USA
Fax: 1 614 466 9354
Email: http://governor.ohio.gov/ShareYourIdeas.aspx

Salutation: Dear Governor

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.

Check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if sending appeals after 10 March 2011

Victim’s Family Asks Ohio Board to Spare Inmate’s Life

From Death Penalty Information Center

The family of a man who was killed in Ohio recently petitioned the parole board to commute the death sentence of the defendant in the murder. Peter Mah, son of Chong Hoon Mah, who was killed by Johnnie Baston (pictured) during a robbery in 1994, told the Ohio Parole Board, “I was opposed to Mr. Baston receiving a death sentence at the time of his trial… [and] my family and I are opposed to Mr. Baston being executed.” During the trial, the family had filed affidavits saying that they preferred to see Baston spend his entire life in prison, but that sentencing option was not available at the time.

The Board makes a recommendation regarding clemency to the governor, who makes the final decision.  Baston’s attorneys have compared his case to that of Jeffrey Hill of Ohio, whose death sentence was commuted to life without parole by former Governor Ted Strickland. In Hill’s case, the parole board cited the wishes of the victim’s family opposing execution. Baston’s attorneys have also presented evidence that he was abused as a child by his birth family.

Baston is scheduled for execution on March 10.  If the execution goes forward, it will be by a method never used before in this country– a single dose of pentobarbital. UPDATE: The parole board unanimously rejected Baston’s petition for a recommendation of clemency.  (Feb. 11, 2011).

(J. Provance, “Killer to ask Ohio governor to spare his life, family of ’94 Toledo victim is against March execution,” Toledo Blade, February 2, 2011).  See Life Without Parole and Victims.

Oklahoma Prisoner Put to Death With Animal Euthanasia

December 17, 2010

(ChattahBox U.S. News)—Facing a shortage of drugs normally used in human executions, prison authorities in Oklahoma used a three-drug cocktail—including an pentobarbital, an animal euthanasia drug–to execute a murderer yesterday, Reuters reports. The prisoner, John David Duty, was convicted of murdering his cellmate with a bed sheet in 2001.

Prison officials said there were no issues with the use of pentobarbital, which has never been employed in an American execution before. Attorneys had appealed its use, but a federal court in Oklahoma and an appeals court upheld its use as part of the execution, Reuters notes.

Read the rest here.