Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has resurrected a proposal to use secret batches of specially mixed medicines in executions by lethal injection, raising concerns over a lack of transparency.
The proposal would amend a bill to restore the electric chair as a default execution method, which was passed earlier this year by both houses of the state legislature. If accepted, Governor McAuliffe’s proposal would leave the state and its drug suppliers exempt from Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.
An almost identical measure was rejected earlier this year by a bipartisan majority of legislators in Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives. To pass, the new proposal will need to gain majority support in a new legislative session, to be held in 9 days’ time.
Courts in Arkansas and Missouri have already struck down similar provisions. Just three weeks ago a Missouri court ruled that the state’s execution drug suppliers could not legally be considered “part of the execution team”, and ordered that the state should disclose records relating to their involvement.
The use of compounded medicines in executions is opposed by both the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists (IACP). In March 2015, members of the APhA said that “such activities are fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of healthcare”, while the body’s CEO, Thomas E. Menighan, commented that: “Pharmacists are health care providers and pharmacist participation in executions conflicts with the profession’s role.”
Virginia conducted an execution last year using drugs that were trafficked from a secret supplier in Texas, contrary to DEA regulations. Texas has since confirmed this was an exceptional agreement, rather than a regular procedure.
Commenting, Maya Foa, Director at Reprieve, said:
“It’s abundantly clear that no one in the healthcare industry wants anything to do with supplying drugs for executions – regardless of secrecy. Pharmacists, like manufacturers, make medicines to improve and save the lives of patients, not end the lives of prisoners in executions. The American Pharmacists Association and the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, the leading voices for pharmacists around the country, have both spoken out categorically against the misuse of pharmacist-made medicines in executions.
“Secrecy will only make the process less transparent, the government less accountable and executions more dangerous and costly.”
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140
2. The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) statement, and that of APhA CEO Thomas E. Menighan, can be seen here.
3. In March 2015, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists released a statement which read:
“While the pharmacy profession recognizes an individual practitioner’s right to determine whether to dispense a medication based upon his or her personal, ethical and religious beliefs, IACP discourages its members from participating in the preparation, dispensing, or distribution of compounded medications for use in legally authorized executions.
“The issue of compounded preparations being used in the execution of prisoners sentenced to capital punishment continues to be a topic of significant interest. It is important to first understand the origin of this issue: states are turning to compounded preparations for this purpose because the companies that manufacture the products traditionally used have unilaterally decided to stop selling them for use in executions. IACP believes that a national discussion needs to be conducted on whether a pharmaceutical manufacturer can restrict the use of FDA-approved products only to purposes that adhere to their corporate values.
“Pharmacy, and compounding in particular, is a profession of healing and care that is focused on individual patients and providing the best and most appropriate medications at all times.”
4. Details of Texas’ arrangement with Virginia to supply drugs for one execution are available here.