Fordham Law

Drug maker urges Florida NOT to use its product in execution scheduled for 3pm today

Deborah Denno in The Daily Mail (UK), September 28, 2011

Media Source

The boss of a Danish drug company has written to the Governor of Florida expressing his fierce opposition to the use of its anaesthetic in the execution of a cop killer set for 3pm today.
Lundbeck president Staffan Schuberg said he 'cannot ensure the safety' of pentobarbital, which is due to be administered to Cuban national Manuel Valle for the 1978 murder of a police officer.
It will be the first use of the controversial drug in Florida as part of a lethal injection.

The new barbiturate is being used more regularly in other states, such as in Georgia, where it was pumped into death row inmate Troy Davis last week.

But doctors, legal experts and campaigners say pentobarbital is untested and causes extreme suffering.

They highlight the case of Roy Blankenship, who reportedly 'jerked his head several times, mumbled inaudibly and appeared to gasp for breath for several minutes' when he was executed in Georgia in June.

In his letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott, Mr Schuberg said the use of his company's drug in executions 'contradicts everything Lundbeck is in business to do – provide therapies that improve people's lives.'|

In a second letter, he added: 'The use of pentobarbital outside of the approved labelling has not been established.

'As such, Lundbeck cannot assure the safety and efficacy profiles in such instances.'
Deborah Denno, an expert in the death penalty at Fordham university law school, said the manufacturer's intervention brought the protest to a new level.

'I don't know how you could cast more doubt on the use of a drug than when you have the condemnation of it by its own maker,' she told the Guardian.

The company also gained the support of the Danish government, which has written to the governors of the states using the drug.

Lundbeck first began putting distribution restrictions in place over the summer that prevent its drug, which trades under the name Nembutal, being sold to any prison or corrections department in the U.S.

But Florida and other states already have reserves allowing them to continue its use unless ordered by the U.S. courts to stop.

Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court rejected appeals that the drug would cause Valle, 61, undue pain and suffering.

The court had temporarily halted his execution last month after his attorneys argued the drug might not render Valle unconscious, therefore putting him in agony.

Valle's execution has also been condemned by campaigners on a number of other issues, including the fact he has been on death row for 33 years, a sentence which UK-based group Reprieve says is tantamount to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

Earlier this week, a British neurologist who has campaigned globally against the use of pentobarbital petitioned the Florida state supreme court, saying the use of Nembutal in lethal injections had never been clinically tested or approved.

After Blankenship's death, his lawyers asked a reputed anaesthetist to give an opinion on his execution based on a reporter's eye-witness account.

David Waisel, a professor of anaesthesia at Harvard medical school concluded the drug ran a 'substantial risk of serious harm'.