LAKE FOREST, ILL., Jan. 21, 2011 — Hospira announced today it will exit the sodium thiopental market and no longer attempt to resume production of its product, Pentothal.Hospira had intended to produce Pentothal at its Italian plant. In the last month, we’ve had ongoing dialogue with the Italian authorities concerning the use of Pentothal in capital punishment procedures in the United States — a use Hospira has never condoned. Italy’s intent is that we control the product all the way to the ultimate end user to prevent use in capital punishment. These discussions and internal deliberation, as well as conversations with wholesalers — the prmary distributors of the product to customers — led us to believe we could not prevent the drug from being diverted to departments of corrections for use in capital punishment procedures.Based on this understanding, we cannot take the risk that we will be held liable by the Italian authorities if the product is diverted for use in capital punishment. Exposing our employees or facilities to liability is not a risk we are prepared to take.Given the issues surrounding the product, including the government’s requirements and challenges bringing the drug back to the market, Hospira has decided to exit the market. We regret that issues outside of our control forced Hospira’s decision to exit the market, and that our many hospital customers who use the drug for its well-established medical benefits will not be able to obtain the product from Hospira.
The National Catholic Weekly has published an article which chronicles how Italian Catholics pulled the plug on US executions.
… But what’s missing from today’s reports is that behind the Italian Parliament’s insistence is a lay Catholic movement dedicated — among many other things – to the eradication of the death penalty around the world. The Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio had been engaged in discussions with Hospira’s Italian subsidiary, Hospira SL, which led to meetings with the Foreign Affairs minister, Franco Frattini, and the Ministry of Health. The result of those meetings was an agreement that the production of the drug in Italy would have to be for strictly therapeutic purposes. The company has long deplored its use in executions, and said it regretted the need to cease production.
Hospira’s choice to end production because it couldn’t give that guarantee was described as “highly responsible” by Sant’Egidio’s spokesman, Mario Marazziti, who said: “It highlights the point that therapeutic drugs and doctors should never be used to bring about death”.
Sidium thiopental is already in short supply after the British government last November also banned the UK manufacture of the drug following a campaign by the British NGO Reprieve. According to the Wall Street Journal‘s law blog, Hospira’s decision means the death penalty system in the US “is potentially thrown into turmoil”. States can attempt to use another anaesthetic instead — Oklahoma, for example, has switched to a drug used to euthanise cats and dogs — but it involves seeking clearance from the courts, which is likely to delay executions.
There is a lesson here about globalization. It’s not just the market that’s gone global. It’s civil society pressure, too.