Review of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1236/2005 to include drugs used in the
lethal injection protocol
On 5 January 2011, a coalition of international non-governmental organisations
(NGOs), wrote to the European Commission to urge them to review and amend
Council Regulation (EC) No. 1236/2005, which controls the international trade
in equipment that could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to include drugs used in the
lethal injection protocol.
On 26 October 2010, Jeffery Landrigan was executed by lethal injection for the
1989 murder of Chester Dean Dyer in Phoenix, Arizona, United States. The
execution took place in spite of a US-wide shortage of sodium thiopental, the
anaesthetic agent in the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections in
Arizona. The Arizona Attorney General revealed that the sodium thiopental used
to execute Landrigan was imported from the United Kingdom.
The export of sodium thiopental from any European country to the US for the
purpose of lethal injections undermines not just the spirit and purpose of
Council Regulation (EC) No. 1236/2005, but also the EU’s policy of fighting
against the death penalty in countries where it still exists. Sodium thiopental
is the drug preferred by US authorities that still carry out the death penalty
with lethal injections.
The joint NGO submission outlined recommendations to the European Commission.
Specifically, to urge the Commission, in consultation with Member States and at
the earliest possible opportunity, to extend the scope of Council Regulation
(EC) No. 1236/2005 to control the trade in drugs used in lethal injections by:
(a) including sodium thiopental in its Annex III, thereby subjecting this drug
to the export control systems of EU Member States; and
(b) including a new ‘torture-death penalty end-use catch-all’ clause in the
Regulation, which would allow EU Member States to prohibit, on a case-by-case
basis, the trade of any item not listed in the Annexes of the Regulation but
that clearly have no practical use other than for the purposes of capital
punishment; or where there are reasonable grounds to believe that such items
would be used for the purposes of capital punishment. This catch-all clause has
been advocated by the UK government, and would enable EU Member States to
prevent exports of any drugs where there are reasonable grounds to believe that
such items would be used for the purposes of capital punishment.
These 2 measures would help ensure that any future exports of any drugs from
the EU (including sodium thiopental, and the other drugs currently used in the
lethal injection protocol: pancuronium bromide (Pavulon), potassium chloride,
and pentobarbital) would not be used for capital punishment, but only for
legitimate medical purposes.
The submission was endorsed by the following NGOs:
• Amicus, UK
• Amnesty International
• Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM), France
• International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
• International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture
• International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), UK
• Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), US
• National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), US
• Omega Research Foundation (ORF), UK
• Penal Reform International (PRI), UK
• Reprieve, UK
• Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP), US
• World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP)
U.S. Execution Drugs Supplied Secretly By British Companies
British companies have secretly supplied two previously undisclosed lethal
injection drugs for executing American prisoners, provoking calls for an
immediate export ban on the whole cocktail of drugs used on death row.
Documents from American authorities reveal that potassium chloride and
pancuronium bromide have been exported. Until now it was thought that only one
execution drug, sodium thiopental, was being supplied by a British company.
When news of that chemical's export to America surfaced, it caused such
condemnation that the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, unveiled new export
controls on the drug forbidding its use in executions.
Now new documents from the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation (CDCR) show that at least one British firm has been providing it
with all the drugs it uses as part of a three-drug cocktail in lethal injection
Inmates on death row are initially injected with sodium thiopental, which is
capable of inducing unconsciousness in a few seconds. Then pancuronium bromide
is administered, causing paralysis of respiratory muscles, before potassium
chloride is given, which stops the inmate's heart, causing death by cardiac
arrest. Opponents argue that the effect of dilution or the improper
administration of thiopental is that the inmate dies an agonizing death through
suffocation due to the paralytic effects of pancuronium bromide and the intense
burning sensation caused by potassium chloride.
Campaigners were demanding last night that Cable ban the export of pancuronium
bromide and potassium chloride to the U.S., claiming that assisting state
executions contravenes the government's commitment to the global abolition of
the death penalty.
Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, which campaigns against the
death penalty, said: "The U.K. has been providing California with all 3 of its
execution drugs. It is vital that Cable imposes export controls on the other 2
drugs as well."
Arizona used sodium thiopental made in Britain to execute an inmate in October.
Britain's wider role in facilitating America's death penalty comes as the U.S.
copes with a national shortage of the drugs used in lethal injections. On
Friday, Oklahoma circumvented the problem by killing a death-row inmate with a
drug cocktail that included a sedative usually used to put down animals.
The documents also reveal that California has imported a massive batch of
sodium thiopental. It ordered 521g of sodium thiopental, made by
Berkshire-based Archimedes Pharma, before the British government announced the
new export controls 3 weeks ago. The CDCR said it had bought the drug through a
distributor for $36,415 (£23,000), not directly from Archimedes Pharma, which
denies exporting the chemical. It means that California has bought enough
sodium thiopental to kill 85 people.
A number of British people are on death row in the state including Kenny Gay,
50, from Swindon. He has faced execution in California for 25 years after being
convicted of killing a Los Angeles police officer.
Emails from the Arizona authorities to the CDCR have also caused anger among
"The shipment [was] processed expeditiously to us as it was for the purpose of
executions and not for use by general public," said an Arizona official.
(source: Free Internet Press)