BERLIN – The leading medical association and key pharmaceutical companies in Germany, where anti-death penalty sentiment is strong, said Monday they would not support exporting a drug to the U.S. that is needed for lethal injections there.
The German Medical Association, the country's association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies and officials from the three companies producing or distributing sodium thiopental in Germany said they oppose selling it to the U.S. for fear it could be used in executions.
Several U.S. states currently face supply shortages after the sole American producer ceased production of the drug due to objections by authorities in Italy, where the company had been making it lately.
Sodium thiopental in the U.S. is used as part of a three-drug combination for lethal injections in 35 states, but across Europe it is used as an anesthetic.
As U.S. states started facing shortages in the fall, they began searching abroad for sources of the drug, but one of them dried up in November when the British government banned exports of sodium thiopental for use in executions.
Germany, Italy and Britain banned capital punishment after World War II. In 2008, the EU issued a declaration against the death penalty and has lobbied for its abolition worldwide.
Frank Ulrich Montgomery, vice president of the German Medical Association, told The Associated Press the nation's doctors are throwing their support behind a call by the Health Ministry for German drug companies and distributors to reject U.S. requests for the drug.
"We are calling on the German pharmaceutical industry to send a clear signal that it recognizes its ethical responsibility and refrain from selling any drugs to the United States that could be used in carrying out the death penalty," Montgomery said.
"This is not about money, but ethical principles," he added.
The three companies producing or distributing sodium thiopental in Germany — Nycomed GmbH, Inresa GmbH and Rotexmedica GmbH — all told the AP they currently had no agreements to export it to the U.S. and would refuse to sell the drug to the U.S. if asked.
Inresa's managing director, Bruno Wassmer, said it is important that the drug be produced for hospitals to use in surgeries, but that his firm would not allow it to be used for executions.
"Thiopental is not the problem. The problem lies somewhere else: The death penalty must be abolished," Wassmer said.
Planned executions in the U.S. states of Arizona, California, Kentucky, Ohio and Oklahoma are currently facing delays or disruptions, due to the shortage.
Rotexmedica's sales director, Andreas Wendt, said the company currently doesn't ship the drug to the U.S., has not received any such export requests, and would decline them if the anesthetic were to be used in lethal injections.
Over the weekend, Germany's Health Ministry said Minister Philipp Roesler wrote a letter to the nation's pharmaceutical companies urging them to ignore any possible U.S. requests for deliveries of the drug.
"We completely back Roessler's appeal," said Nycomed spokesman Juergen Schneider. Should the company learn that one of its clients passes on deliveries of the drug to the U.S., it would cut its ties to the client, he added.
The association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies said Monday that none of its member companies delivers medications to the U.S. that are used in lethal injections, and any such requests would be declined.
"That is an ethical commitment for our members," spokesman Jochen Stemmler said.