American death row prisoners risk extreme pain during their executions as a
result of an anaesthetic produced by the Danish company Lundbeck, according
to several US experts..
“Gruesome, painful, horrible,” says Harvard Anaesthestist and Medical
Professor David Waisel.
Two states – Ohio and Oklahoma – have begun using pentobarbital for executions
as stocks of a previous anaesthetic have run out, and the company that
previously produced the anaesthetic used has decided to stop production.
“There is no documentation that this substance can be used to anaesthetise
people like this. We don’t know the correct dose. Prisoners are not treated
like human beings but like animals,” Waisel says.
Oklahoma was the first state to start using Lundbeck’s pentobarbital for an
execution in December, and has used it three times. Earlier this week, Ohio
also decided to use pentobarbital for future executions and Texas is also
considering changing to pentobarbital.
Another expert – Prof. Ty Alper of Berkely who has specialised in studying
executions using injections, says it is likely that the anaesthetic has not
“There is a real danger that the prisoners have been conscious when they
received the next injection, which is extremely painful,” Alper says.
A report in The Lancet in 2005, following autopsies, said that 43 percent of
those studied seemed to have been conscious and therefore subjected to
unnecessary suffering during their executions.
Fordham University Law Professor and Death Penalty Expert Deborah Denno says
that Lundbeck has got itself into a hornet's nest.
“It means that this company will now be associated with people who die. A
company that produces a substance that helps people becomes a company that
kills people from one day to the next,” she says.
The Lundbeck company says that it is against the death penalty, and that the
use of pentobarbital in executions is against its wishes.
“Criticism of the death penalty should be raised against those who carry them
out. It has nothing to do with our product,” says Lundbeck Media Chief
Anders Schroll adding there are no plans to stop production of pentobarbital
to stop its use in executions.
“If we were to prevent it, then we would have to remove the product from the
market. If we withdraw the product, people would end up in life-threatening
situations. Doctors agree with us. There is nothing we can do,” Schroll says.
Waisal agrees that pentobarbital is important in the treatment of stroke.
“But I would wish that the company publicly and continuously and actively
says: ‘This is not the desired use of our product. It perverts the product
to use it in this way. The product is designed to help patients. Do not use
it for executions’,” Waisal says.
Lundbeck has sent letters to the Depts. of Corrections in Ohio and Oklahoma in
which the company distances itself from the use of pentobarbital for
executions. The two departments have not yet received the letters and are
said to have no comment on the issue.
The next pentobarbital execution is set for March 10 in Ohio when 36-year-old
Johnnie Baston is to be executed for the murder in 1994 of store owner Chong