Could Drug Companies Help End The Death Penalty in America?

Thirty-two states in America still have the death penalty, making the U.S the only OECD nation other than Japan to use it. Other countries that still have the death penalty include Iran, Zimbabwe, China, North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cuba and Belarus.

While the U.S continues to engage in a practice that Amnesty International regards as a violation of human rights, a surprising new obstacle is making the use of the death penalty increasingly difficult to carry it out. As Clare Algar reports in the New Statesman, an unlikely, incredibly powerful human rights advocate has stepped in:

Pharmaceutical companies are taking a moral stand. The manufacturers of the drugs required by state departments of corrections for executions are saying they will not allow their products to be employed in this way. Manufacturers in the UK, US, Denmark, Israel, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and India have taken steps to prevent their drugs being used in executions.

This has had an astonishing effect. Shortages of lethal injection drugs and attendant litigation have resulted in moratoria—an official halting of executions—in Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, and Tennessee. Historically, state entities do not move directly from having the death penalty to abolition. They begin with a moratorium on killing and then, when the population has grown unused to executions, the death penalty can be abolished. Of the states mentioned above, Maryland abolished the death penalty this year and abolition bills have been put forward in Nebraska, Colorado, and California. California came very close to passing its abolition bill—voting against by 52 to 48. Meanwhile, the media coverage of the issue has exposed the unsavoury details of the execution process and created opportunities for serious debate about abolition.

Algar argues that without the use of lethal chemicals to execute prisoners, states will be forced to use makeshift cocktails from compounding pharmacies for executions, or revert back to more violent methods of killing, both moves filled with huge political risks given executing states have, as she say,”invested a lot of time and energy in persuading the world that death by lethal injection is humane”.  The solution says Algar, who is the executive director of the charity Reprieve, is to halt killings altogether.

Big Pharmaceutical companies aren’t exactly known for their benevolence – the industry is notorious for ruthlessly seeking profit, withholding lifesaving drugs from poor countries, and corrupting health care systems around the world. But as Algar argues, from a marketing point of view, Pharmaceutical companies stand to gain since “they manufacture medicines which they sell to doctors and health practitioners. Their raison d’être is the saving of lives.”

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.