The news has broken today that the sole US manufacturer of a key drug used in lethal injections will cease production because authorities in Italy, where the drug was to be made, wanted a guarantee that it wouldn't be used to put inmates to death.
Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill, had decided to switch production of the anaesthetic sodium thiopental from its North Carolina plant to Liscate, outside of Milan. But the Italian Parliament wanted the company to control the product's distribution to prevent it being used for executions. Hospira decided it couldn't make that promise and has decided to suspend production -- potentially throwing the death penalty system in the US into disarray.
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.