Pharmacists Take A Vote: No More Participation In Executions

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On Monday, the American Pharmacists Association took a vote on participating in the administration of lethal drugs to death row inmates. They’ve adopted a new policy that brings them into line with the ethical standards of physicians, nurses, and anesthesiologists. Their statement says:

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.

The position isn’t legally binding, but the group’s 62,000 credentialed members are likely to observe the change, creating an even bigger dilemma for death penalty states than already exist.

Pharmaceutical companies have already dropped out of the business of providing lethal drugs to prisons. That development is largely due to protesters who object to the use of the death penalty and who drew unwanted attention to the companies who sold drugs for executions. Such actions have a dampening effect on profits.

Compounding pharmacies, which mix drugs to order, recently stepped in to fill the gap. However, they, too, are being targeted for protests and identified as participating in the unsavory, unethical practice of helping to end lives.

The legal director of an organization that supports capital punishment, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, lamented the move.Kent Scheidegger said:

It’s unfortunate that groups such as this would allow themselves to be dragged into a political dispute.

What’s really unfortunate is that people like Scheidegger can’t see the ethical dilemma for healthcare professionals. It’s ethics, not politics, that are in question when pharmacists are expected to play a role in causing someone’s death. Group member Bill Fassett, who voted for the policy, expressed his relief:

Now there is unanimity among all health professions in the United States who represent anybody who might be asked to be involved in this process.

Fassett is also a professor of pharmacy law and ethics at Washington State University. He thinks that Americans find it easy to support the death penalty because they don’t have to see the ugly reality. He explained:

It’s like we’re not really executing. We’re sort of like taking Spot to the vet. We’re just putting him to sleep, and that’s not true.

Only 18 states do not have a death penalty. Six of those — New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland — have banned it just since 2007. There is obviously a growing awareness of just how unacceptable administering death is.

The remaining states, however — two-thirds of the nation — are left to scramble for alternative methods of carrying out executions if they can’t obtain lethal drugs. Tennessee will go back to using the electric chair. Utah just revived the use of a firing squad. Oklahoma is contemplating the use of nitrogen gas.

Death at the hands of the states is about to get uglier and messier. If it’s grisly enough, maybe the American public will see the practice for the officially-sanctioned murder it really is.

Or maybe not. Maybe it’ll just be the show they watch before sitting down to Sunday dinner.


Reprinted with permission from Addicting Info