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KPBS Midday Edition

What Pfizer's Stand Against Lethal Injections Means For California

Police officers stand in front of Pfizer's New York City headquarters during an Occupy Wall Street march, Feb. 29, 2012.
Michael Fleshman
Police officers stand in front of Pfizer's New York City headquarters during an Occupy Wall Street march, Feb. 29, 2012.
What Pfizer’s Stand Against Lethal Injections Means For California
What Pfizer's Stand Against Lethal Injections Means For California GUEST:Megan McCracken, attorney, UC Berkeley Death Penalty Clinic

This is KPBS midday edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The news but the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer will no longer supply drugs for lethal injections a new complication into the very couple get it issue of executions in America. There have been no executions in California since 2006 because it no legally accept the will lethal injection protocol has been in place. The state is just now in the process of getting public comment on a new lethal injection drug. Joining me is Megan she is a lawyer with UC Berkeley death penalty clinic making, welcome to the program. Hello. Thanks for having me. Why goodbye to say that it is not going to provide trucks for lethal injections? Pharmaceutical companies have been saying that they don't want their products used in executions for many years. That includes Pfizer. We have seen letters to Department of Corrections dating back to 2001. They said this is not will make our products for. Please don't use our products in this way, etc. More recently, in about the past five years, pharmaceutical companies have started taking concrete steps to make their products unavailable to Department of Corrections for this use. So Pfizer went and acquired [ Indiscernible ] last year. It acquired more products that are used in executions or could be used in executions. I think that motivated the company to take this extra step to put the restrictions in place, put the end-user agreements in place, and make a big statement to make it very clear that it is opposition to this use. Drug companies have been gradually pulling back and providing their products for executions. How are states administering lethal injections? I guess I have a two-part answer. On the one hand, we do know that some states have been using pentobarbital that they get from a compounding pharmacy or rather compounding pharmacies. So that is one option. Other states have been using manufactured drugs that they are able to obtain. The second part of the answer is that increasingly, we simply do not know and cannot know how it states are getting their drugs. Many states have been passing enhanced secrecy statutes that make more information about their execution procedures confidential. It makes that information sort of more confidential than it ever has been before. And so, the really relevant information about what is this drug, who made it, how did you get it? All that information that really goes to do we have assurance that this struggle work as it needs to work, that is all being hidden. I just mentioned in the opening that California is in the process of getting public comment on a new lethal injection drug. What is our state proposing in terms of a new lethal injection protocol? Right. The CDC are has proposed a procedure that would be a one drug barbiturate only procedure. And then it has given the CDC are four options. Only one drug would be used in any given execution, but they have a choice between four. How would they get these drugs? That is not clear. They release documents at the time that they promulgated the procedure back in November. That made mention of it different options. It gives the department of corrections a lot of different options to obtain the drugs. Said one of which is clearly to use a compounding pharmacy. They sort of say they can use whatever drugs they can get. So there is a real lack of transparency there about what exactly will this product be? Again, without that clarity, it is really difficult to know if the drug will be what it purports to be an if it will work as it needs to work. A compounding pharmacy, compounding procedure, has been held responsible for some botched executions? Isn't that right? Yes. Compounded drugs have been associated with major health crises in the country not related to executions. There have been at least one execution where the prisoner screened out in pain when a product that was said to be a compounded product was initially administered, yes. Voters in California basic two propositions on the ballot this November about the death penalty. One of them would speed up the process because there are so many people in California's death row. One would abolish executions in the state. Making, is there any reason to believe that the public has moved away from support of the death penalty? Certainly across the country, we see states moving away from a capital punishment. Most recently, Nebraska's legislature abolished the death penalty there. as more and more people see that there are so many problems with capital punishment, and that it is really a broken system, and a costly broken system, the more people know, the more they turn away from it. I am not an expert on California's political process so I can't really comment on that. There are many problems with the death penalty, and the more you know about it, the clearer they become. I have been speaking with Megan McCracken. She is with UC Berkeley death healthy clinic. Megan, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Drugmaker Pfizer on Friday said it opposes the use of its products for capital punishment and would work to block the use of its drugs in lethal injections.

The announcement came in the midst of California's administrative process to move from a multi-drug cocktail for lethal injections to a single drug. The proposal is still in a public comment period.

Pfizer doesn't make any of the potential drugs, said Megan McCracken, a lawyer with The University of California Berkeley Death Penalty Clinic.

But McCracken told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday there's little information available about the proposed drugs, and the state could use compound pharmacies, which have been linked to botched lethal injections.

"There's a real lack of transparency," she said.

McCracken said that Pfizer's strong stand against its products being used in executions is becoming an industrywide position and could point to further complications obtaining lethal injection drugs and maintaining support for capital punishment.

"We see states moving away from capital punishment and as more and more people see that there are so many problems with capital punishment and that it is really a broken system — a costly broken system." McCracken said.