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J Med Ethics 39:62-64 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101197
  • Ethics briefings

Ethics briefings

Drugs used in lethal injections

In August 2012, the drug manufacturer, Fresenius Kabi, barred the sale of the anaesthetic, propofol, for use in lethal injections. The company announced that it would not accept orders for the drug from US departments of correction, and put in place similar requirements on all its wholesalers and distributors.1

Propofol is one of the world's most widely used anaesthetics. Earlier in 2012, US states began to use propofol in executions following shortages of other drugs which had previously been used in lethal injections. In May 2012, the state of Missouri decided to move to a one-drug protocol, using propofol alone for lethal injections, in place of the three-drug protocol that had been used by most states carrying out the death penalty. Missouri took this decision when supplies of thiopental sodium and pentobarbital, drugs used in the three-drug protocol, became unavailable.2

Fresenius Kabi said that it had imposed the restrictions in order to ‘prevent Propofol from being used for purposes other than its approved medical indications’ and to ensure that ‘the immediate access to Propofol needed by medical professionals’ was not hindered. The company said that it objected to the use of its products in any manner that was not in full accordance with the medical indications for which they have been approved by health authorities.3 All forms of Fresenius Kabi propofol are manufactured in Europe. A European Union (EU) Council regulation prevents products that may reasonably be expected to be used in executions from being exported from the EU. The company said that, should propofol begin to be used in executions in the USA, inadequate access to the drug in the country was a likely consequence. At the time of writing, the US Food and Drug Administration was reporting shortages of the drug in the USA for …