America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

German firm probed over suspected illegal shipment of euthanasia drug to US

Ohio's death chamber
A German medical firm is suspected of illegally shipping several tons of a solution that is used to euthanize animals to the United States. The solution contains an ingredient also used to execute prisoners.

The prosecutor's office in the northern town of Oldenburg is investigating German veterinary pharmaceutical company VET Pharma Friesoythe GmbH for shipping a liquid drug used for euthanizing dogs to the United States illegally, according to an investigative report by German public broadcaster NDR and Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ).

The solution in question, called "Beuthanasia-D," contains pentobarbital, which is used in lethal injection cocktails. The trade of pentobarbital is highly regulated by European Union anti-torture directives and is subject to strict export restrictions.

Research by NDR and SZ found that prosecutors are investigating the chief executive of VET Pharma on suspicion of a commercial breach of the German Foreign Trade and Payments Act. Several other employees are also being investigated in the case.

In May, customs officials searched VET Pharma's office in the northern German town of Friesoythe, during which they seized data and company documents.

Oldenburg prosecutors confirmed to NDR and SZ that they are currently investigating "several responsible persons at a pharmaceutical company," but did not provide concrete details on the case, citing ongoing investigations.

Although based in Friesoythe, VET Pharma is owned by US pharmaceutical giant Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD).

Beuthanasia-D is used to euthanize dogs by injecting the liquid into their veins

Alleged illegal exports

Prosecutors are investigating three shipments of "Beuthanasia-D" that VET Pharma sent to the US without a proper export license. The 3 shipments to the US took place between November 2017 and January 2018. An additional 2 shipments may have also been sent to Japan, once again lacking the required export licenses.

A search warrant issued by a district court in Oldenburg states that the customs office in the German port city of Bremen was able to prevent a further export from taking place on February 2018.

Several VET Pharma employees are also suspected of manipulating export data in order to conceal the nature of the shipments in question from the companies that were responsible for transporting them.

According to German law, exporting pentobarbital to the US is only permitted when the destination of the substance and its intended use is made clear. In the past 5 years, Germany's Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control hasn't approved any pentobarbital shipments to the US.

Suspicions that the drug had been exported without an export license undermines European efforts to abolish the death penalty worldwide, German MEP Barbara Lochbihler told NDR and SZ. She's a member of the Greens in the European Parliament and was previously the Secretary General of Amnesty International Germany.

"We must not look away, rather we must very clearly punish individual cases," she said.

Pentobarbital is used in lethal injection cocktails and its export is therefore highly regulated by EU anti-torture directives

No evidence of misuse

NDR and SZ research found that the "Beuthanasia-D" solution was sent to VET Pharma's affiliate in the US, Intervet Schering-Plough Animal Health. Both firms are owned by MSD.

When approached by NDR and SZ for comment, a spokesman for MSD Animal Health said the company was "working closely with the authorities in this matter."

As the drug is only authorized in the US as a veterinary drug and is not approved for use on humans, the MSD spokesman said he had no reason to believe "Beuthanasia-D" had been used for any other purpose. He added that all MSD employees were required to abide by the law.

Lethal injection drugs in short supply in US

The trade of pentobarbital has been highly regulated and restricted within the European Union since 2011 due to its use in executions.

Many pharmaceutical manufactures in the EU have chosen to ignore supply enquiries from US companies for pentobarbital and similar substances to prevent their drugs being used on prisoners on death row.

In part due to these restrictions, drugs for lethal injection cocktails in the US are in short supply. As a result, many states have either postponed planned executions or controversially experimented with untested chemicals.

Capital punishment has been illegal in Germany since 1949. The EU as a whole also opposes it.

Source: dw.com, Christian Baars, Stella Christin Peters, Benedikt Strunz, July 12, 2018

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