Germany urged the European Union (EU) [official website] on Friday to impose an export ban on a drug used for lethal injections [JURIST news archive] in several US states. Germany's human rights commissioner, Markus Loening, requested that the drug sodium thiopental be placed on the list of drugs [AP report] that require governmental consent prior to export. Sodium thiopental is one of three drugs used in the lethal injection sequence and is manufactured by three German companies that sell the drug locally for anesthesia purposes. Loening indicated that it was important that no drugs from Germany or the EU were used in US executions. US states are facing shortages of the drug following an announcement by Hospira, Inc. [official website], the sole US manufacturer of the drug, that it will cease production of sodium thiopental. The German Medical Association and the Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies [official websites] endorse the ban on sodium thiopental exports to the US. Capital punishment is prohibited in the EU.
The shortage of sodium thiopental in the US has caused several states to modify lethal injection protocol, which has lead to a number of constitutional challenges by death row inmates. In March, two Texas inmates requested stays on their executions [USA Today report] to obtain more information on the new protocol and possibly challenge the protocol as unconstitutional. Texas acknowledged that its supply of sodium thiopental had an expiration date of March 1. Arizona, Georgia and Oklahoma have faced similar challenges and are seeking to substitute the sodium thiopental used in the lethal injection "cocktail" with pentobarbital. Kentucky and Tennessee surrendered supplies of sodium thiopental [NYT report] to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) [official website] after the agency seized Georgia's supply in order to investigate whether the drug was properly imported. In September, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ordered [text, PDF] a district court judge to reconsider the stay of execution [JURIST report] in the case of Albert Brown. The court noted that the timing of Brown's execution was influenced by the expiration of the state's supply of sodium thiopental, and stated that it was "incredible to think that the deliberative process might be driven by the expiration date of the execution drug."