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Danish Drug Company Fails to Stop Florida Execution

Danish demands that the unapproved sedative Nembutal not be used to inflict the death penalty can't save Manuel Valle.


Manuel Valle died last night. Photo via

By Jed Bickman


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Danish drug manufacturer Lundbeck is trying to stop its product from killing people. Since last year, its sedative Nembutal (Pentobarbital) has been used in executions around the US, and this March the state of Ohio employed it for the first time for a single-dose execution. In response, Lundbeck announced in July that it would block sales of the drug to any US prison that carries out the death penalty. However, many prisons have already stockpiled the drug: Nembutal played its part in the killing of Troy Davis last week. This week Lundbeck's president, Staffan Schuberg, wrote to Florida's governor, Rick Scott, asking him not to allow the use of their product—for the first time in Florida—in the planned execution of Manuel Valle, a 61-year-old Cuban national convicted of the 1978 murder of a police officer. But Valle was put to death yesterday. Schuberg wrote that the use of Lubeck's product in executions “contradicts everything Lundbeck is in business to do—provide therapies that improve people’s lives.” The company also enlisted the help of the Danish government, whose embassy in the US has written to state governors protesting the death penalty and the use of Nembutal. Florida courts earlier rejected an appeal for a stay in Valle’s execution based on the uncertainty and unreliability of Nembutal in capital punishment. That appeal was written by Dr. David Nicholl, a neurologist and human rights activist who cited Lundbeck scientists' concern that the drug can cause “undue pain and suffering" to prisoners. “The use of Nembutal in lethal injections has never been clinically tested or approved,” Dr. Nicholl wrote. He further argued that the unlawful use of Nembutal—because it hasn't been legally approved—to end human life creates a double-standard that will “demean the authority” of the State of Florida to address the “crisis of rampant unlawful prescription of controlled substances.” If the State of Florida can illegally use a prescription drug to kill people, under what authority can it arrest its citizens who also use such drugs illegally?

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