European Commission Announces Tight Controls on Exportation of Lethal Injection Drugs

On December 20, the European Commission announced tough new restrictions on the export of drugs that could be used for executions in the United States. The EC added pentobarbital and sodium thiopental - two drugs on which almost all American executions currently depend - to its list of restricted products that are tightly controlled on the grounds that they may be used for cruel and inhuman treatment or punishment. “The decision today contributes to the wider EU efforts to abolish the death penalty worldwide,” said the Commission’s vice-president, Catherine Ashton. The United Kingdom’s Business Secretary, Vince Cable, welcomed the new regulations, saying, “We have led the way by introducing national controls on the export to the United States of certain drugs, which could be used for the purpose of lethal injection. However we have always stated our clear preference for action at EU level and I am pleased that, following our initiative, these steps are now being taken.” Last year, the sole manufacturer of sodium thiopental, Hospira, Inc., announced it would no longer produce the drug. In 2011, Lundbeck, Inc., the Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, made efforts to block the sale of its product to any penal institution in the United States. All U.S. executions in 2011 were conducted by lethal injection.

(E. Pilkington, “Europe moves to block trade in medical drugs used in US executions,” The Guardian, December 20, 2011). See International and Lethal Injection.