Hospira Inc. is the world's only FDA-approved manufacturer of the potentially-deadly (and otherwise sort of useless) anesthetic used in lethal injection executions. And according to this article in USA Today, they have stopped selling that drug, at least for now:
"We are working to get it back onto the market for our customers as soon as possible," Hospira spokesman Dan Rosenberg said.
But at least one death penalty expert was skeptical of Hospira's explanation, noting that the company has made it clear it objects to using its drugs for executions. Hospira also makes the two other chemicals used in lethal injections…
Last spring, Hospira, a publicly traded company, sent a letter to all states outlining its discomfort with the use of its drugs for executions, as it has done periodically.
"Hospira provides these products because they improve or save lives and markets them solely for use as indicated on the product labeling," Kees Groenhout, clinical research and development vice president, said in a March 31 letter to Ohio, obtained by the AP. "As such, we do not support the use of any of our products in capital punishment procedures."
Because any change to the lethal injection formula would probably mean a costly lawsuit from death-penalty opponents (supposedly-humane lethal injection is already controversial enough), simply by taking one of the drugs off the market, Hospira can create a years-long death row bottleneck in all of the 35 states that use their chemicals. It's unclear if Hospira is actively protesting the use of its products in lethal injections, or if this is just a temporary interruption to a no-doubt burgeoning global trade in sodium thiopental. Either way, a single private company has the ability to halt all lethal injections in the United States, at least for a while.