A Pfizer spokesperson said the company opposed the use of its drugs in lethal injections before today’s update. An earlier version of its policy on capital punishment took a less forceful stance on the issue than Friday’s update, insisting that “efforts to influence policy” were better directed towards legislators and public officials.
“Our distribution plan, which restricts the sale of these seven products for unintended uses, implements our publicly stated position against improper use of our products and, most importantly, doesn't stand in the way of patient access to these critical medications,” an October 2015 version of the policy stated.
“However, due to the complex supply chain and the gray market in the United States, despite our efforts, Pfizer cannot guarantee that a U.S. prison could not secure restricted products through other channels not under Pfizer’s control,” it cautioned.
The updated policy includes neither the redirection towards lawmakers nor the hedging of its own ability to control the supply chain. Instead, it outlined the company’s efforts to regulate the distribution of key lethal-injection drugs.
Pfizer’s distribution restriction limits the sale of these seven products to a select group of wholesalers, distributors, and direct purchasers under the condition that they will not resell these products to correctional institutions for use in lethal injections. Government purchasing entities must certify that products they purchase or otherwise acquire are used only for medically prescribed patient care and not for any penal purposes. Pfizer further requires that these Government purchasers certify that the product is for “own use” and will not resell or otherwise provide the restricted products to any other party.
Pfizer will consistently monitor the distribution of these seven products, act upon findings that reveal noncompliance, and modify policies when necessary to remain consistent with our stated position against the improper use of our products in lethal injections. Importantly, this distribution system is also designed to ensure that these critical medications will remain immediately available to those patients who rely on them every day.
States rely on a small collection of drugs to perform lethal injections, typically administered in one-drug or three-drug cocktails. Pfizer manufactures seven of them: the sedatives propofol, midazolam, and hydromorphone, the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide and two variants of it, and potassium chloride, which is used to stop the inmate’s heart.
Until recently, the standard method of lethal injection used sodium thiopental, a sedative, followed by a muscle relaxant and then potassium chloride. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the sodium thiopental cocktail’s constitutionality in Baze v. Rees. In recent years, death-penalty opponents began pressuring drug manufacturers to stop selling it and other key drugs to U.S. prisons for executions. The European Union imposed an export ban on drugs for lethal injections to the U.S. in 2011.