A few days ago, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced a ban on the use of their drugs for capital punishment in the United States. This decision was picked up by American newspaper The New York Times, where the company stated that the manufacture of their products is intended to enhance the lives of patients, and that it strongly opposes their use as lethal injections. It also revealed that they will impose strict controls to prevent distributors selling the drugs to state corrections agencies.
Thus, the 32 states that still have the death penalty will not be able to access these types of drugs, since Pfizer were the last company to provide them. From now on they will be obliged to resort — as they have been doing to combat increasing problems with supply — to drugs in alternative markets or abroad to carry out the executions. They could also opt for other methods, such as execution by firing squad, which was reinstated in the state of Utah in 2015.
The debate on the death penalty has reopened after the recent disastrous execution in Oklahoma of prisoner Clayton D. Lockett, who due to an error on administration of the lethal injection, was still convulsing and moaning 43 minutes later. The prisoner eventually died of a massive heart attack, tied to the gurney.
According to witnesses in McAlester penitentiary (Oklahoma), Lockett suffered brutal convulsions and writhed in the bed while trying to undo the restraints. In his struggle, with his jaw tensed, the prisoner managed to say a few words that suggested that something was not going as it should (El País Internacional, 30-04-2016).
The United States is the fifth country in the world in number of executions, after China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, according to 2015 data from Amnesty International. The death penalty, reinstated in 1976, makes the country an anomaly in the developed, democratic world. However, legal issues and problems with accessing medication have caused a drop in the number of executions in the United States: 28 people died in 2015, very far from the 98 in 1999, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Centre.