American Pharmacists Association Discourages Members From Providing Lethal Injection Drugs

03/31/2015 01:00 am ET | Updated Mar 31, 2015
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The American Pharmacists Association, a major professional organization of pharmacists, adopted a policy Monday discouraging its 62,000 members from providing drugs for executions.

On the final day of the group's annual meeting in San Diego, its governing body approved a policy declaring that participation in lethal injections violates the profession's core values:

The American Pharmacists Association discourages pharmacist participation in executions on the basis that such activities are fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of health care.

William Fassett, a board member and professor emeritus of pharmacotherapy at Washington State University Spokane, drafted the policy, which he said had virtually no opposition.

"Changing policy often takes two to three times through the process to bring everyone on board," Fassett told The Huffington Post. "I was optimistic -- cautiously so. But it was as close to a slam-dunk afterwards. Once we had a voice vote, it was clear that the majority of the delegates agreed with the policy."

Thomas E. Menighan, the association's executive vice president and CEO, said in a statement that the new policy aligns the group's execution policy with those of other major health care associations, including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Board of Anesthesiology.

“Pharmacists are health care providers and pharmacist participation in executions conflicts with the profession’s role on the patient health care team," Menighan said.

The new policy was spurred in part by the activist group SumOfUs.org, which describes itself as a watchdog organization and "a global movement of consumers, investors, and workers all around the world, standing together to hold corporations accountable."

"The question about whether pharmacists should be involved in executions is a very recent one," Kelsey Kauffman, a SumOfUs senior adviser, told The Huffington Post. "The AMA and nursers associations have had to deal with it for decades."

About a year ago, Kauffman said she read a report that mentioned pharmacists -- unlike doctors in America -- are not forbidden by their professional oaths or organizations from participating in executions.

"I thought, ‘They got that wrong, it can’t be true,’” Kauffman said. When she found out it was true, SumOfUs began partnering with Amnesty International, the NAACP, the National Council of Churches, Reprieve and other groups. They sent a letter co-signed by 31 human rights organizations and religious denominations, to the pharmacists' association, asking it to take a stand against pharmacists participating in executions.

“It’s never been legal in the U.S. to write a prescription to execute a person," Fassett noted. "The basic federal law is that a prescription is to be used for medical proposes in the context of an established patient-physician relationship."

Departments of corrections in states that allow the death penalty had traditionally obtained lethal injection chemicals from pharmaceutical companies. Since 1985, the pharmacists' association has opposed using the term "drug" for chemicals used in lethal injections.)

Around 2011, supply of lethal injection drugs was disrupted due to bans and boycotts that led to drugmakers ceasing production. In the past year, prisons in Oklahoma and Texas, among other states, have run short of stockpiled drugs, forcing them to turn to individual pharmacists and compounding pharmacies to mix chemicals for lethal injections.

"Before that, it was like saying, 'Should we have a policy about pharmacists flying airplanes without a license?’ It wasn’t an issue for us," Fassett said. Participation in lethal injections "wasn’t really on our radar until a few years ago”

Though the new policy formalizes the association's ethical position on lethal injections, Fassett said the group lacks the power of enforcement.

“We’re not trying to get pharmacists de-licensed," Fassett said. "We just want it clear to pharmacists in that state that they can’t" participate in executions.

Fassett said he's unsure how the policy will factor into the lethal injection debate. “Every major organization of health care providers who could potentially be asked by the state to join their execution team now have a uniform goal against this," he said.

“When you’re out by the ocean and the tide finally starts to come in, you think, 'Which of all those waves is the most important? The first wave that breaks? The last wave to roll in?' I'm glad we added our little wave to the tide," Fassett said.

Also on HuffPost:

  • Lethal Injection
    Until 2010, most states used a three-drug combination: an anesthetic (pentobarbital or sodium thiopental), a paralytic agent (pancuronium bromide) to paralyze the muscle system, and a drug to stop the heart (potassium chloride). Recently, European pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell drugs to the U.S. for use in lethal injections, requiring states to find new, untested alternatives.
  • Gas Chamber
    Gas chambers, like this one pictured at the former Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Mo., were first used in the U.S. in 1924. In the procedure, an inmate is sealed inside an airtight chamber which is then filled with toxic hydrogen cyanide gas. Oxygen starvation ultimately leads to death, but the inmate does not immediately lose consciousness.
  • Electric Chair
    The first electric chair was used in 1890. Electrodes attached to an inmate's body deliver a current of electricity. Sometimes more than one jolt is required.
  • Hanging
    Hanging was used as the primary method of execution in the U.S. until the electric chair's invention in 1890. Death is typically caused by dislocation of the vertebrae or asphyxiation, but in cases when the rope is too long, the inmate can sometimes be decapitated. If too short, the inmate can take up to 45 minutes to die.
  • Firing Squad
    This Old West-style execution method dates back to the invention of firearms. In a typical scenario in the U.S., the inmate is strapped to a chair. Five anonymous marksmen stand 20 feet away, aim rifles at the convict's heart, and shoot. One rifle is loaded with blanks.
  • Beheading
    Wikimedia Commons
    Decapitation has been used in capital punishment for thousands of years. Above is the chopping block used for beheadings at the Tower of London.
  • Guillotine
    Kauko via Wikimedia Commons
    Invented in France in the late 18th century during the French Revolution, the guillotine was designed to be an egalitarian means of execution. It severed the head more quickly and efficiently than beheading by sword.
  • Hanging, Drawing and Quartering
    Wikimedia Commons
    A punishment for men convicted of high treason, "hanging, drawing and quartering" was used in England between the 13th and 19th centuries. Men were dragged behind a horse, then hanged, disemboweled, beheaded, and chopped or torn into four pieces.
  • Slow Slicing
    Carter Cutlery/Wikimedia Commons
    Also called "death by a thousand cuts," this execution method was used in China from roughly A.D. 900 until it was banned in 1905. The slicing took place for up to three days. It was used as punishment for treason and killing one's parents.
  • Boiling Alive
    Wikimedia Commons
    Death by boiling goes back to the first century A.D., and was legal in the 16th century in England as punishment for treason. This method of execution involved placing the person into a large cauldron containing a boiling liquid such as oil or water.
  • Crucifixion
    Wikimedia Commons
    Crucifixion goes back to around the 6th century B.C.used today in Sudan. For this method of execution, a person is tied or nailed to a cross and left to hang. Death is slow and painful, ranging from hours to days.
  • Burning Alive
    Pat Canova via Getty Images
    Records show societies burning criminals alive as far back as the 18 century B.C. under Hammurabi's Code of Laws in Babylonia. It has been used as punishment for sexual deviancy, witchcraft, treason and heresy.
  • Live Burial
    Antoine Wiertz/Wikimedia Commons
    Execution by burial goes back to 260 B.C. in ancient China, when 400,000 were reportedly buried alive by the Qin dynasty. Depending on the size of the coffin (assuming there is one), it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours for a person to run out of oxygen.
  • Stoning
    Wikimedia Commons
    This ancient method of execution continues to be used as punishment for adultery today.
  • Crushing By Elephant
    Wikimedia Commons
    This method was commonly used for many centuries in South and Southeast Asia, in which an elephant would crush and dismember convicts as a punishment for treason.
  • Flaying
    Michelangelo/Wikimedia Commons
    Records show flaying, the removal of skin from the body, was used as far back as the 9th century B.C.
  • Impalement
    Wikimedia Commons
    Records show this execution practice used as far back as the 18th century B.C., where a person is penetrated through the center of their body with a stake or pole.
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