Drug Makers Join Lawsuit Against Arkansas' "Conveyor Belt" of Executions

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Drug Makers Join Lawsuit Against Arkansas' "Conveyor Belt" of Executions

"The companies are understandably appalled at the prospect of their medicines being used in America's largest mass execution since the civil rights era"

The so-called "death chamber" at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas.

The so-called "death chamber" at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas. (Photo: Getty)

As Arkansas moves forward with its brutal plan to execute seven prisoners within 11 days, the makers of the drugs Arkansas plans to use to put the prisoners to death have joined a lawsuit to stop the "conveyor belt of death."

"[C]ourts might want to take note of Arkansas' essentially lawless position. Seeking poisons to take human life, the state was thwarted because the makers of medicines refused to collaborate in killing."
—Garrett Epps, The Atlantic
"Pharmaceutical manufacturers develop drugs to save and improve lives, and the companies are understandably appalled at the prospect of their medicines being used in America's largest mass execution since the civil rights era," said Maya Foa, director of the human rights organization Reprieve, in a statement.

In their brief (pdf) filed Thursday, the companies Fresenius Kabi and West-Ward argue that "[t]he use of their medicines for lethal injections violates contractual supply-chain controls that the Manufacturers have implemented" and "[t]he use of their medicines for lethal injections […] creates a public-health risk because it could result in the denial of medicines from patients who need them most."

As the Atlantic's Garrett Epps reported earlier this week, the state has in fact admitted breaching its contract with the drug companies to purchase the medicine from a third-party supplier.

Epps wrote:

[C]ourts might want to take note of Arkansas' essentially lawless position. Seeking poisons to take human life, the state was thwarted because the makers of medicines refused to collaborate in killing. The state then persuaded some company somewhere to violate a valid contract and turn over these drugs to be used contrary to their purpose. In an earlier case involving the new "cocktail," the state admitted that it had knowingly bought the drugs from distributors who were violating contracts with the drug-makers. The suppliers only agreed to the sale, the state admits, because a change in Arkansas state law made their identities exempt from disclosure under the state's public records law. Asked about this, Judd Deere, communications director for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, responded, "I don't have any further comment."

"Arkansas deliberately engineered a breach in these companies' contracts in order to obtain these drugs, undermining the interests of the healthcare industry and putting public health at risk," Foa noted. "Reprieve fully supports Fresenius Kabi and West-Ward's efforts to prevent this grave misuse of life-saving medicines and protect public health."

The lawsuit the companies are joining argues that the state's lethal injection "cocktail" is highly likely to subject inmates to a torturous and botched execution.

Indeed, just last week a federal judge affirmed an appeals court's decision to halt Ohio's use of one of the drugs in question, Midazolam, in the state's executions, as it was likely to pose a risk of "serious harm" to prisoners.

In the meantime, rights activists continue to call for an end to the executions altogether.

"It is not too late for Arkansas to halt these executions," said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, in a statement. "The conveyor belt of death which it is about to set in motion proves how out of step it is with the rest of the world when it comes to state-sanctioned killing, which is on the decline globally as more and more governments, and more U.S. states, recognize it for the cruel anachronism it is."

"Debates over the use of lethal injection must not just be about fine-tuning the killing process," Rosas added. "It is a myth that the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state can ever be 'humane,' and it is long past time for the USA to join the global abolitionist trend."

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