A Drug Company With Integrity? (January 27, 2011)

Is it me, or in our cynical, “me first and only” age, does this question appear oxymoronically improbable? Yet here we have an example of drug maker Hospira Inc. not only refusing to profit from the death of others, but ceasing production of the item under discussion to be certain.

The back story is that state prisons have experienced a “national shortage” of the sedative, sodium thiopental, commonly used in the lethal injection method of executing prisoners on death row. Like any resourceful angels of death, the states, particularly Oklahoma and Ohio, went in search of a replacement. They settled upon pentobarbital, “a barbiturate used to induce comas during surgeries to prevent brain damage when blood flow is interrupted, and to reduce possible brain damage following strokes or head trauma. It is chemically related to the same product used to euthanize pets.”

So now felons in the “Big O” States can have the same kind of peaceful end as the cancer-ridden family dog. Sounds humane enough right? Well in an unforseen twist, the company that produces pentobarbital wants nothing to do with its product becoming synonymous with loss of life. Lundbeck Inc., whose U.S. headquarters sit right to the North of my beloved Chicago, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. “This goes against everything we’re in business to do…We like to develop and make available therapies that improve people’s lives….That’s the focus of our business.”

It is typically my business to believe that a corporation, particularly one in the racketeering-like game of prescription drugs, must have some other agenda. But faced with a sizeable loss of revenue due to their stance, Lundbeck appears to be merely (dare I say it?) articulating its reasoned moral position. Though the article admits that “Lundbeck does not sell the product directly to end users and has no way of preventing either state from using the drug,” I find it creditable that they chose to speak up rather than quietly continue to count money.

I have shared, directly in my profile biography, that I am in a surprising number of cases, onboard with the death penalty. Jared Lougher, the smug and unrepentant shooter in Tuscon, Arizona, is an individual who tends to bring out the more barbarous nature in me. However, nearly every belief I have lies on some sort of continuum and though I can be stubborn, I like to believe I am not completely inflexible.

I am reconsidering where I stand, day by day, as states like Illinois move to outlaw capital punishment. There seems to be too many weaknesses in our justice system to stand behind such a final solution. And when you have a drug company’s experts testifying in a court of law, “Because of these significant unknowns, and a lack of clinical history related to using pentobarbital to induce anesthesia, using pentobarbital as part of a 3-drug lethal injection protocol puts the inmate at an undue risk of suffering,” – well, that’s another good reason to take a pause. Because drug manufacturers have rarely been accused of humanitarian activism.


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